Diabetes, High Cholesterol and Cardiovascular Disease Speed Up Alzheimer’s

Diabetes and high cholesterol speed up the process of cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s patients, a recent study has shown. Cardiovascular disease was also linked to more rapid mental deterioration, but only in individuals possessing a certain “apolipoprotein” that is sometimes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

The results are part of a long-term Alzheimer’s focused study, in which 156 individuals have been followed for upwards of 10 years. The nature of the study allowed researchers to both monitor individuals before and after they developed Alzheimer’s, allowing conclusions to be made concerning potential developmental risk factors, as well as factors that intensify the condition once developed. The entire study is called the Washington Heights/Inwood Columbia Aging Project. Dr Yaakov Stern speaks of the benefits of this type of study: “Through the Washington Heights/Inwood Columbia Aging Project, we were able to follow patients before they began to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s and for several years following their diagnosis. This makes our estimates of progression much more powerful, since we were able to know exactly when cognitive decline began.”

It was found that diabetics, and individuals with high LDL cholesterol levels, experienced significantly faster cognitive deterioration once Alzheimer’s had been developed. This was also the case for individuals with a history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) who also harbored the apolipoprotein APOE-å4, but those with CVD and without APOE-å4 did not demonstrate this connection.

Supported by this current research, as well as past studies that have linked diabetes, hypertension and CVD, to the onset of Alzheimer’s, Dr. Stern and his colleagues believe that increased oxidative stress levels caused by these conditions, are responsible for the onset and rapid progression of Alzheimer’s. This oxidative stress can lead to inflammation in the brain, which often triggers a neural mechanism thought to be a primary cause of Alzheimer’s. Dr. Stern indicates the difficult but best way of helping delay or prevent the effects of Alzheimer’s disease: “Preventing heart disease, stroke and diabetes – or making sure these conditions are well managed in patients diagnosed with them – can potentially slow the disease progression of Alzheimer’s.” Proper nutrition and exercise are known to be the best ways to prevent and manage diabetes, high LDL levels, and CVD.

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Stern, Yaakov. Streich, Elizabeth. Columbia University Medical Center news release. March 2009.