Living your best life at 35 can raise your risk for Alzheimer’s disease

BOSTON, Mass. — Living your “best life” at age 35 — meaning you’re likely not worrying about your cholesterol or glucose levels — can impact your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, a new study reveals.

Researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine say that lower levels of “good” cholesterol and higher levels of certain fats in the blood in your 30s can raise the risk of dementia later on. Specifically, the team found that lower HDL (high-density cholesterol) levels and higher triglyceride levels in people as young as 35 had a connection to a greater likelihood of Alzheimer’s onset during old age.

Additionally, researchers found higher blood glucose levels in people in their 50s also led to an increased chance of Alzheimer’s disease.

“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,” explains senior author Lindsay Farrer, PhD, chief of biomedical genetics, in a university release.

Previous studies have revealed a consistent link between LDL cholesterol (or “bad” cholesterol) and Alzheimer’s risk. On the other hand, study authors say the link between HDL cholesterol and cognitive decline has been unclear. They add that much of the confusion revolves around Alzheimer’s studies mainly looking at people older than 55.

Dementia prevention needs to start ‘early’ on

This new study, however, used data from the Framingham Heart Study. This multi-generational study followed participants throughout most of their adult lives at four-year intervals. The team looked at the connection between Alzheimer’s development and known risk factors for heart disease and diabetes during three stages of life: ages 35-50, 51-60, and 61-70.

These risk factors include each person’s levels of HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose, blood pressure, their smoking habits, and body mass index.

Results show that having less HDL cholesterol between “early” adulthood (35-50) and “middle” adulthood (51-60) was predictive of Alzheimer’s onset later in life. High blood glucose levels between ages 51 and 60 also increased the risk of developing dementia.

“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,” says corresponding author Xiaoling Zhang, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine.

“Intervention targeting cholesterol and glucose management starting in early adulthood can help maximize cognitive health in later life,” Farrer adds. “The unique design and mission of the Framingham Heart Study, which is a multi-generation, community-based, prospective study of health that began in 1948, allowed us to link Alzheimer’s to risk factors for heart disease and diabetes measured much earlier in life than possible in most other studies of cognitive decline and dementia.”

The findings appear in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association.

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