Having high blood sugar and low "good cholesterol" levels early in adulthood can raise a person's risk for Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study. Photo by Erik1980/Wikimedia Commons
March 23 (UPI) -- A person's cholesterol and blood sugar levels as early as in the mid-30s could determine the risk for developing Alzheimer's disease later in life, a study published Wednesday by the journal Alzheimer's and Dementia found.
Having low high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol, often called the "good cholesterol," at ages 35 to 50 years increases a person's risk for later developing Alzheimer's by up to 15%, the data showed.
Similarly, elevated blood sugar, or glucose, levels at ages 51 to 60 years raises a person's risk for later Alzheimer's disease by about the same percentage, the researchers said.
"There is a tendency among people in this younger age bracket to take for granted they are in good health and not have regular check-ups," one of the researchers, Lindsay A. Farrer, told UPI in a phone interview.
"Our findings should give them a reason to start paying attention to their health earlier in adulthood," said Farrer, chief of biomedical genetics at Boston University School of Medicine.
Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, affecting about 6 million people in the United States, according to the Alzheimer's Association.
More than one in 10 adults nationally have low HDL, or good cholesterol, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates.
This includes about 8% of adults ages 20 to 39 years, according to the agency.
Previous studies have found that a protein in good cholesterol may help limit the effects of dementia.
Although the agency does not track numbers of people with high blood sugar nationally, it estimates that 18% of adults ages 45 to 64 years across the country have diabetes, which is caused by elevated blood sugar.
That age range includes those ages 51 to 60 years, the group in which elevated blood sugar levels raised the risk for Alzheimer's, according to Farrer and his colleagues.
Their findings are based on an analysis of data for nearly 5,000 adults included in the Framingham Heart Study, a multi-generation, community-based assessment of health that began in 1948.
Participants were examined in approximately four-year intervals throughout most of their adult lives, the researchers said.
At each exam, participants were checked for heart disease and diabetes as well as various health parameters including levels of HDL, LDL, triglycerides, blood glucose, blood pressure and body weight.
Although earlier research has identified potential links between Type 2 diabetes and dementia, the findings of this study suggest that the relationship may begin much earlier in life than previously thought, the researchers said.
"The good news," Farrer said, is that cholesterol and blood sugar are both "modifiable risk factors" for Alzheimer's, meaning that even people who are at high risk in their 30s can lower the likelihood of their developing the form of dementia by improving their numbers.
They can do this by eating a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity and, if needed, taking prescription medication, he said.
"If you are 30 to 35 and have a family history of cholesterol problems and diabetes, all the more reason you should get checked," Farrer said.