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High cholesterol in middle age may lead to dementia

WASHINGTON, Aug 4 (Reuters) - People who have even slightly elevated cholesterol when they are middle-aged have a higher risk of dementia later on, researchers reported on Tuesday.

The study of nearly 10,000 people found that those with high cholesterol in their 40s -- a reading of 240 or higher -- had a 66 percent higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease 40 years later.

People whose cholesterol was lower -- 200 to 239 -- had a 52 percent higher risk in old age than people with lower cholesterol levels, the team at the University of Kuopio in Finland and Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research reported.

“Our study shows that even moderately high cholesterol levels in your 40s puts people at greater risk for Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia decades later,” Rachel Whitmer of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California, said in a statement.

“Considering that nearly 100 million Americans have either high or borderline cholesterol levels, this is a disturbing finding. The good news here is that what is good for the heart is also good for the mind and this is an early risk factor for dementia that can be modified and managed by lowering cholesterol through healthy lifestyle changes.”

Exercise and healthy diet can help lower cholesterol, as can drugs.

Writing in the journal Dementia & Geriatric Cognitive Disorders, the researchers said they recruited people aged 40 to 45 from 1964 to 1973. They followed them for as long as 40 years.

Over this time, 598 of them were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia between 1994 and 2007, when they were between 61 and 88 years old.

The study did not look at whether the high cholesterol levels caused the Alzheimer’s or whether controlling them with drugs might reduce the risk of developing dementia.

Two genes associated with cholesterol are also linked to Alzheimer’s and researchers have known there must be a link. Other studies have suggested that statin drugs, which lower cholesterol, might lower the risk of Alzheimer’s, too, although this is not yet proven and the way it works is not clear.

Alzheimer's, a mind-wasting condition for which there are few treatments and no cure, affects 26 million people globally. Statins, including Pfizer's PFE.N Lipitor and AstraZeneca's AZN.L Crestor, are the world's biggest-selling drugs. (Editing by Bill Trott)