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Cholesterol and Dementia
I have long taught that people place their vitality at jeopardy when they choose to lower their cholesterol level using drugs like statins or supplements like red yeast rice. The results of a 32 year study on cholesterol level and Alzheimer’s disease were released in November 2010, and I found them most interesting. The study, called the Prospective Population Study of Women, was published in Neurology. 2010;75:1888-1895, 1862-1863
1,462 Swedish women without dementia (loss of memory and other mental abilities) had their cholesterol measured. Their health was then followed for 32 years. Investigators were hoping to demonstrate that high cholesterol levels in mid-life placed women at risk for dementia in later life. This did not prove to be the case, as cholesterol levels in mid-life were not associated with dementia in later life.
It was found instead that declining cholesterol levels over time placed women at risk for dementia. In other words, cholesterol levels that remained constant or rose over time did not increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. Cholesterol levels that decreased over time were associated with an increased incidence of dementia with aging.
The results should not have come as a surprise. Cholesterol, included the so-called "bad" LDL cholesterol is absolutely essential for brain function and health. Many people report memory difficulties after starting cholesterol-lowering medications, but unfortunately physicians rarely recognize that the memory issues are directly due to the drugs they are prescribing.
Women in the United States often face a difficult decision: Whether to place their future physical and mental health at jeopardy by taking a cholesterol-lowering drug or to risk upsetting their personal physician by allowing their cholesterol level to remain unchanged. May you have the courage to maintain your cholesterol level over time!
Dale Peterson, M.D.