Cholesterol, Glucose Levels in Early and Mid-Adulthood Could Impact Alzheimer’s Risk Later

When we’re younger, we may think we have a few years to enjoy ourselves until we really need to get serious about our health. That may mean we don’t track our diets quite as well as we should, and maybe we’re not overly concerned with certain health metrics. However, a new study finds that our cholesterol levels when we’re as young as 35 may have an impact on our Alzheimer’s risk later in life, as could our glucose levels in mid-life.

Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine examined the link between high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or the “good cholesterol,” and glucose levels and later Alzheimer’s incidence. They found that both had an impact on Alzheimer’s risk decades before diagnosis. The findings, published in Alzheimers & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, indicate that we may be able to get an earlier start on protecting our brain health as we age.


Dr. Lindsay A. Farrer, senior author and chief of biomedical genetics at BU School of Medicine, says, “While our findings confirm other studies that linked cholesterol and glucose levels measured in blood with future risk of Alzheimer’s disease, we have shown for the first time that these associations extend much earlier in life than previously thought.”

The team says high levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), often called “the bad cholesterol,” had been linked with Alzheimer’s risk in prior studies, but the disease’s association with HDL hadn’t been so conclusive. To investigate this link, researchers used data from the long-running Framingham Heart Study, which has been monitoring heart health in thousands of patients since 1948.

Over successive followups held roughly every four years, participants had a variety of health metrics checked. The BU team used this data to focus on the link between Alzheimer’s and risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. They looked at these numbers in three separate periods of life: 35-50, 51-60, and 61-70.


The team found that a 15 mg/dL increase in HDL was linked with a 15.4% lower risk of later Alzheimer’s in the first age bracket, as well as 17.9% lower risk in the second bracket. Additionally, a 15 mg/dL increase in glucose in the middle bracket was linked with a 14.5% increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Xiaoling Zhang, first author and assistant professor of medicine, says, “These findings show for the first time that cardiovascular risk factors, including HDL which has not been consistently reported as a strong risk factor for AD, contribute to future risk of AD starting as early as age 35.”

The researchers say that younger adults should not only manage their cholesterol and glucose to avoid cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but now it could also prove useful in reducing Alzheimer’s risk in the decades ahead.

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