Live Right, Live Well

Cholesterol That's Good for Your Brain

A new study shows getting enough good cholesterol doesn''t just protect your heart -- it may also pr...

What’s good for your heart may also keep your memory sharp. That’s what a new study on cholesterol from Columbia University suggests. Researchers found that older men and women with very high levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in their blood -- 55 milligrams or more -- had a 60 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than those with lower levels.

Nicknamed “good cholesterol,” HDLs carry artery-clogging cholesterol out of the bloodstream and are linked with a lower risk of heart disease. Low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), on the other hand, are often called “bad cholesterol” because they allow cholesterol to build up on artery walls, increasing the risk for heart attack and stroke.

Experts speculate that HDLs protect against Alzheimer’s by clearing out specific proteins from the brain that trigger the disease’s symptoms.

For heart disease, HDL levels above 40 milligrams are considered protective. But when it comes to Alzheimer’s, “HDLs appear to protect only at these very high levels [of 55 milligrams or more],” says Dr. Christiane Reitz, the study’s lead researcher and an assistant professor of neurology at Columbia University’s Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain.

“In people over the age of 50, only about 30 percent of the population has HDL levels greater than 55 milligrams,” notes Reitz. If you’re not one of them, consider the following strategies for raising your HDLs to benefit your heart and keep your memory sharp:

Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight contributes to low HDL levels.

Stop smoking. Besides reducing your overall risk for cardiovascular disease, kicking the habit may boost your HDL levels a notch or two.

Exercise. Regular physical activity not only helps raise HDL levels, but also provides cardiovascular benefits of its own.

Drink alcohol in moderation. If you don’t drink, don’t start -- but moderate alcohol consumption is linked to higher HDLs.

Choose healthy fats. Limit saturated fat, which may lead to clogged arteries. Saturated fats are found in animal foods, like meat and dairy products. Focus instead on monounsaturated fats, like those in olive oil and avocados.

Ask your doctor about cholesterol-lowering medications. Drugs such as fenofibrate or gemfibrozil are most effective at lowering bad LDL cholesterol, but they can help raise good HDL cholesterol as well.




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