Study Suggests HDL Cholesterol Levels May Impact Dementia Risk in Older Adults

A recent study published in Neurology has raised questions about the relationship between high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels and the risk of dementia in older adults. The research suggests that both high and low levels of HDL cholesterol may be associated with an increased risk of dementia, emphasizing the importance of maintaining HDL cholesterol within a certain range for both cardiovascular and brain health.

Study Details

  • The study involved over 184,000 adults with an average age of 70 who did not have dementia when the research began.
  • Researchers tracked cholesterol levels, health behaviors, and dementia development over approximately 13 years.
  • During this period, over 25,000 individuals developed dementia.

Recommended HDL Levels

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend maintaining total cholesterol at around 150 mg/dL.
  • LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) has long been recognized for its negative impact on cardiovascular health.
  • The study participants were divided into three groups based on their HDL cholesterol levels, with adjustments made for other dementia risk factors.

Impact on Dementia Risk

  • Participants with HDL levels of at least 65 mg/dL (the highest group) had a 15% increased risk of developing dementia.
  • Those with the lowest HDL levels (11 to 41 mg/dL) had a 7% increased risk compared to the middle group.
  • Surprisingly, the study did not find any association between LDL cholesterol and dementia risk.

Complex Function of HDL

  • HDL cholesterol is not uniform in its function; how the body uses it and where it is stored make a difference.
  • Healthy habits, including exercise, can influence the function of HDL cholesterol by transforming it into HDL particles that perform important tasks, such as removing LDL cholesterol from arteries and transporting it to the liver for disposal.

Brain vs. Systemic Cholesterol

  • HDL cholesterol in the brain operates differently from systemic cholesterol stored in the body.
  • Excessive HDL cholesterol in the brain can cause inflammation that leads to the production of amyloid deposits, which can damage organs and tissues.
  • Another recent study has linked genes associated with high HDL cholesterol levels to genes predisposing individuals to dementia, adding complexity to the relationship.

Ongoing Research

  • The findings highlight the complexity of HDL cholesterol and its role in health, particularly in late life.
  • While the study suggests that HDL cholesterol could be a modifiable risk factor for dementia, more research is needed to understand this relationship fully.
  • It is not yet clear whether HDL cholesterol plays a significant role in dementia risk, and further investigation is required.



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