These Three Health Indicators at 35 Are Linked to Your Risk of Dementia

When it comes to your brain health later in life, it pays to be physically healthy now, according to a new study.

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A recent study shows a correlation between certain vascular risk factors in a person’s 30s and their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Specifically, low HDL, or “good” cholesterol, high triglycerides, and high blood glucose are linked to a higher risk of Alzheimer’s, the fifth leading cause of death in people over age 65.

Long story short? High blood sugar and high triglycerides are bad for you in more ways than the obvious. Researchers found significant evidence correlating elevated blood glucose and the development of Alzheimer’s, according to the study, published in the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Low HDL and elevated triglycerides were also linked to Alzheimer’s. They found no evidence of a link between smoking, BMI, or LDL (“bad” cholesterol) with the development of cognitive dysfunction as the participant aged.

The research team, from Boston University, examined data collected from close to 5,000 people who participated in the Framingham Heart Study, a 70+ year, multigenerational cardiovascular study. Participants were an average age of 37 when the study began and were examined nine times every four years until they reached age 70.

Each examination consisted of cholesterol testing, body mass index (BMI) determination, blood glucose screening, blood pressure measurement, and reporting the number of cigarettes smoked per day, with additional cognitive tests beginning after the second exam.

Study authors told Medical News Today that HDL might increase blood flow in the brain and “transportation” of lipids, thus reducing plaque buildup in the brain, which is associated with Alzheimer’s. “Another problem with high glucose is that it prompts the release of insulin to lower the glucose, and this can lead to wildly fluctuating sugar levels in the brain, which is very bad for nerve cells,” said Xiaoling Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., co-author and assistant professor of medicine and biostatistics at Boston University School of Medicine.

The researchers noted a few limitations in their study. The entire cohort of patients was white, so variations among other demographics could not be determined. Also, doctors did not perform fasting blood glucose levels to obtain baselines at the first two visits, potentially skewing results.

The study’s main takeaway is that diet, even as young as 35, can impact brain health as we age. General health maintenance — eating a balanced diet, getting functional movement in — pays dividends, no matter what you look like or whether or not you’re a marathon runner. Monitoring cholesterol and blood glucose levels and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise regimen can help maintain brain health into old age.

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