Fluctuating levels of cholesterol, fat tied to dementia risk

Older individuals who experience fluctuations in their cholesterol and triglyceride levels may face a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias compared to those with stable levels, according to recent research published in Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

However, the study stops short of establishing a causal relationship between variable lipid levels and dementia.

Suzette J. Bielinski, PhD, a study author affiliated with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, stressed the urgency of preventive strategies for Alzheimer’s and related dementias. She noted that routine screenings for cholesterol and triglyceride levels are already a standard part of medical care and that fluctuations in these measures over time could potentially aid in identifying individuals at a higher risk for dementia. Furthermore, understanding the mechanisms behind dementia development and investigating whether stabilizing these fluctuations could reduce dementia risk are areas that warrant exploration.

To delve into this topic, researchers analyzed health care data from 11,571 individuals aged 60 or older who had not previously been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. The study team reviewed measurements of total cholesterol, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) taken on at least three different occasions in the five years leading up to the study.

Based on the extent of fluctuation in these measurements, participants were divided into five equal groups. The group with the least variation over time was classified as the lowest group, while the group with the most variation was labeled the highest group.

Over an average follow-up period of 13 years, 2,473 individuals developed Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia among the study participants.

After adjusting for various factors that could impact dementia risk, such as sex, race, education, and lipid-lowering treatments, the researchers discovered that individuals in the highest group for total cholesterol had a 19% higher risk of developing dementia compared to those in the lowest group. Within the highest group, 515 individuals out of 2,311 developed dementia, whereas the lowest group saw 483 out of 2,311 individuals experiencing dementia. For triglycerides, the highest group showed a 23% increased risk.

In contrast, the study did not establish a link between variations in LDL and HDL and an elevated risk of dementia.

Bielinski emphasized that the reasons behind the relationship between fluctuating cholesterol and triglyceride levels and Alzheimer’s disease risk remain unclear. She further emphasized the need for additional studies that focus on examining changes in this relationship over time in order to confirm these findings and explore potential preventive strategies.

It is worth noting that the study did not differentiate between different types of dementia but instead looked at Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias as a collective entity.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provided support for this research.

For more information about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, individuals can visit BrainandLife.org, the American Academy of Neurology’s website that offers a free magazine for patients and caregivers, covering topics at the intersection of neurologic disease and brain health. Additional updates can be found by following Brain & Life® on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

When discussing this research on social media, it is encouraged to use the hashtags #Neurology and #AANscience.

The American Academy of Neurology, which boasts a membership of over 40,000 neurologists and neuroscience professionals, is the largest association of its kind globally. The organization is dedicated to promoting high-quality patient-centered neurologic care. Neurologists are physicians with specialized training in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of disorders affecting the brain and nervous system, including conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraines, multiple sclerosis, concussions, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy.

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