MONDAY, Dec. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Sticking to a heart-healthy lifestyle may also ward off Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study that suggests that raising "good" cholesterol levels can help prevent the brain disorder in older people.
The study, published in the December issue of Archives of Neurology, found that people who had low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good" cholesterol had a 60 percent greater risk of developing Alzheimer's disease after the age of 65 than those who had high levels.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance composed of "good and bad" cholesterol and triglycerides found in the bloodstream. More than 50 percent of the U.S. population has high levels of "bad" cholesterol, according to the study.
"Our study suggests that high HDL levels ['good' cholesterol] are associated with a lower risk for Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Christiane Reitz, the study's author. "Ways to increase HDL levels include losing weight [if overweight], aerobic exercise and a healthy diet."
By treating problems with cholesterol levels, "we can lower the incidence of Alzheimer's disease in the population," said Reitz.
Some medications, such as statins, fibrates and niacin, that are used to lower "bad" cholesterol also raise "good" cholesterol, said Reitz, an assistant professor of neurology at Columbia University's Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease in New York City.
More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, the most common form of dementia, and those numbers could triple by 2050, according to health officials.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health reports that about 5 percent of Americans between the ages of 65 and 74 have late-onset Alzheimer's disease, the more common form of the disorder, and the prevalence increases with age. By age 85, nearly 50 percent of the population develops the disease
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