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Afraid your occasional forgetfulness means you'll get Alzheimer’s? Can't say for sure, but you may be able to lower your risk of the disease by lowering your cholesterol.
Researchers have known for awhile that what’s bad for the heart is bad for the head -- heart disease and Alzheimer’s often go hand in hand. Now a new study in the journal Neurology has found that high cholesterol levels may be part of the reason why.
Researchers in Japan examined the autopsied brains of 147 people who had had their blood cholesterol levels measured before they died and found that 86 percent of those with high cholesterol -- for this study, a total score above 224 mg/dL -- had brain plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Among those with normal cholesterol levels -- an average total cholesterol score of 189 -- 62 percent had brain plaque. The study also found that that insulin resistance, a sign of diabetes, may be another risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.
So what does that mean for you? The average cholesterol level for Americans hovers around 199. U.S. health guidelines recommend that people should aim for a total cholesterol number below 200. Scores between 200 and 239 are considered borderline high and those at 240 or more are high. However, some medical experts, like T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., author of The China Study, and professor emeritus at Cornell University, borderline high is too high. According to his research, our risk for several diseases, including several types of cancer, climbs with our cholesterol. And since there’s no such thing as too low a cholesterol level, he advocates bringing it down as much as you can by following a plant-based, whole foods diet. Think beans, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables -- period. Believe it or not, you can actually clear plaque from your arteries by abstaining from meat and dairy. Cardiologists like Caldwell Esselstyn at the Cleveland Clinic and Dean Ornish of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute have both reversed heart disease in terminal patients.
That’s not to say you have to go vegan to avoid getting Alzheimer’s. Those who love meat and dairy ( myself among them) could benefit by following a Mediterranean-type diet that includes plenty of fruit, vegetables, beans and whole grains, and keeps meat, dairy, sugar and processed and fried food to a minimum. Past research shows that people who followed this kind of diet and exercised regularly had a 60 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Plus, some studies show that certain good-for-you vices, like chocolate and wine, may also help keep the mind young.
Though these researchers say it’s too soon to say if diet alone can stave off Alzheimer's disease, choosing cholesterol-lowering foods like oats, dried fruit and nuts, could be a sensible way to keep your head clear and your arteries clean.