Groundbreaking discovery links high cholesterol to elevated risk of dementia

Mar 20, 2023
Source: Getty Images.

A groundbreaking discovery has been made by researchers at the Heart Research Institute (HRI), revealing a connection between elevated cholesterol levels and a heightened risk of dementia, a world-first finding.

This breakthrough could pave the way for doctors to determine an individual’s likelihood of developing dementia by conducting a simple and inexpensive blood test to measure their cholesterol levels.

Dr. Ashish Misra, the Atherosclerosis and Vascular Remodelling team’s Unit Leader at HRI, led the study, which analysed 17 studies conducted globally and encompassing over one million patients under the age of 65.

According to Misra, these findings have the potential to revolutionise our approach to decreasing the likelihood of cognitive decline and enhancing our overall well-being.

“This is a really exciting discovery because we’ve found the association between cholesterol and dementia,” Misra said.

“Until now we haven’t known high cholesterol was a risk factor for dementia, but we’ve found a link: “bad” cholesterol aggregates a protein called tau between neurons, which cross the blood-brain barrier and can lead to dementia.

“It’s very exciting to know that if we can classify someone as high risk by checking their blood work for high cholesterol in their 50s, then we can look at their diet as a way of managing and even reducing their risk of dementia.

“Better still, it’s a low-cost intervention. It’s checked with a blood test so it’s easy to detect.”

Lifestyle factors and their impact on the development and progression of dementia have been closely examined in previous studies.

Recent research identified seven healthy habits and lifestyle factors that may play a role in lowering the risk of developing dementia.

The study’s findings will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 75th Annual Meeting being held in Boston from April 22-27, 2023.

The seven cardiovascular and brain health factors, known as the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7, are:

  • being active
  • eating better
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • not smoking
  • maintaining a healthy blood pressure
  • controlling cholesterol
  • having low blood sugar

“Since we now know that dementia can begin in the brain decades before diagnosis, it’s important that we learn more about how your habits in middle age can affect your risk of dementia in old age,” said Pamela Rist, ScD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and a member of the American Academy of Neurology.

“The good news is that making healthy lifestyle choices in middle age may lead to a decreased risk of dementia later in life.”

The study involved 13,720 female participants with an average age of 54 at the commencement of the study.

Researchers followed up with participants 20 years later, examining Medicare data to identify those who had been diagnosed with dementia. Of the participants, 1,771, or 13 per cent, developed dementia.

After adjusting for factors like age and education, researchers found that for every increase of one point in the score, a participant’s risk of dementia decreased by 6 per cent.

Each of the seven health factors was assigned a score of zero for poor or intermediate health and one point for ideal health, resulting in a maximum score of 7. At the beginning of the study, the average score was 4.3, and it decreased to 4.2 ten years later.

“It can be empowering for people to know that by taking steps such as exercising for a half an hour a day or keeping their blood pressure under control, they can reduce their risk of dementia,” Rist added.

According to the latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, it’s estimated that there were 401,300 Australians living with dementia in 2022.

According to predictions, the population of Australians with dementia is expected to exceed 849,300 people by 2058, more than twice the current number.


IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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