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High cholesterol, brain plaques and Alzheimer's disease may be linked

September 13, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Having high cholesterol may cause more brain plaques, a marker for Alzheimer's disease.
Having high cholesterol may cause more brain plaques, a marker for Alzheimer's… (Ben Margot / Associated…)

Keeping cholesterol in check may not just be good for your heart--a study finds that people who have high cholesterol may at greater risk for brain plaques, which are associated with Alzheimer's disease.

In the study, published today in the journal Neurology, brain specimens were examined from 147 autopsies that were done between 1998 and 2003. Among the Japanese participants all were free from signs of dementia when they were tested in 1988, but 34% were diagnosed with dementia before they died.

During the autopsies researchers looked for brain plaques and tangles, which are markers of Alzheimer's disease. Amyloid plaques appear between the brain's nerve cells, and tangles are twisted strands of a protein called tau that can build up inside cells. Both are thought to be responsible for the brain's decline.

The autopsies revealed that 86% of people who had high cholesterol also had brain plaques, while 62% of people with low cholesterol had plaques. There was no link seen between high cholesterol levels and the presence of tangles.

"Our study clearly makes the point that high cholesterol may contribute directly or indirectly to plaques in the brain," said study co-author Dr. Kensuke Sasaki in a news release, "but failed treatment trials of cholesterol-lowering drugs in Alzheimer's disease means there is no simple link between lowering cholesterol and preventing Alzheimer's."

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