Does High Cholesterol Increase Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease?

Researchers form Emory University and the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center have just revealed the discovery of a link between LDL cholesterol levels and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  These new results, of course, could help doctors better understand how this disease develops.  Perhaps more importantly, this discovery could reveal a possible cause for Alzheimer’s disease and, potentially if there is a genetic variation that increases risk. 

In this study, researchers analyzed the blood samples and the DNA of 2,125 people.  Of this population, 654 had already received a diagnosis for early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  In addition, about 10 percent of this group had a unique variation of the APOE gene that has been linked with the disease. 

Lead study Dr. Thomas Wingo comments that the results of the study show how LDL cholesterol levels might actually play a significant causal role in the development of this form of dementia. 

He comments, “The big question is whether there is a causal link between cholesterol levels in the blood and Alzheimer’s disease risk. The existing data have been murky on this point.”

Furthermore, the Atlanta VA and Emory University neurologist and researcher goes on to say, “One interpretation of our current data is that LDL cholesterol does play a causal role. If that is the case, we might need to revise targets for LDL cholesterol to help reduce Alzeimer’s risk. Our work now is focused on testing whether there is a causal link.” 

Now, it should also be noted that early-onset Alzheimer’s disease is a somewhat rare form of this condition.  This form is categorized as onset of the dementia disease before the age of 65.  Data shows that only about 10 percent of all Alzheimer’s cases are early-onset.  Past research suggests the condition is mostly genetics-based. 

So far, we know there are three specific gene variants (APP, PSEN1, and PSEN2) associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  We also know that having the APOE E4 gene also puts a person at higher risk for this condition.  And even with all of this information, to reiterate, it only categorizes about 10 percent of cases; and that means we still cannot explain about 90 percent of cases. 

The results of the study have been published in the journal JAMA Neurology. 

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