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Published in the journal JAMA Neurology, researchers in the US have linked elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) – also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol – to the risk of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

The study looked at the levels of cholesterol in the blood of people with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease compared to healthy volunteers.

Scientists did genetic tests on blood samples from the research volunteers to see whether there were any differences in the genes they carried. The team discovered a higher number of genes that coded for the major protein in LDL-C in people with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease compared to healthy volunteers.

Dr Jana Voigt, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, commented: “There is good evidence linking high levels of cholesterol to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

“While the vast majority of people with Alzheimer’s begin to experience symptoms after the age of 65, this study linked high levels of so-called bad cholesterol to the rarer, early-onset form of the disease. This study cannot tease apart cause and effect, but it does show that early-onset Alzheimer’s is associated with cholesterol genes.

“Alzheimer’s Research UK is funding research into how cholesterol may contribute to Alzheimer’s and whether drugs might be able to tackle these processes. Despite a link between Alzheimer’s risk and cholesterol, clinical trials of cholesterol-lowering statins have not shown benefits for treating or preventing Alzheimer’s.

“Many people know high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease and other health conditions, but they don’t realise it’s a risk factor for dementia too.

“To keep the brain healthy as we age, the best evidence is to eat a balanced diet, maintain a healthy weight, not smoke, drink within recommended guidelines, exercise regularly and keep blood pressure and cholesterol in check. If anyone has concerns about their cholesterol level or any other aspect of their health, they should talk to their doctor.”

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