Information about "Good" Cholesterol and Dementia Risk

Accumulating evidence suggests that, unlike LDL, high levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol offer protection from cognitive decline. A Dutch study of 561 85-year-olds found that people with low levels of HDL cholesterol were more than twice as likely to develop dementia as those with the highest HDL levels.

When the researchers excluded people with a history of heart disease or stroke, low HDL was associated with a four times greater risk of dementia. The study authors speculated that HDL cholesterol may prevent the buildup of beta-amyloid or reduce brain inflammation, two factors that may help prevent dementia.

Experts recommend an HDL level for men of 40 mg/dL or higher and an HDL level for women of 50 mg/dL or higher. Exercising, losing weight if overweight, and quitting smoking can increase levels of good cholesterol, as can certain dietary changes. These include avoiding trans fatty acids (found in packaged baked goods, commercially prepared fried foods, and most margarines) and substituting monounsaturated fats (from olive and canola oils, nuts, and avocados) for saturated fats (found primarily in animal products, such as butter, cream, lard, and meats).

If HDL levels are still low, a physician may recommend medication—a statin or the B vitamin niacin—to increase levels of this good cholesterol.

Publication Review By: Peter V. Rabins, M.D., M.P.H.

Published: 08 Mar 2011

Last Modified: 01 Dec 2014