It’s often been said, “What’s good for the heart is good for the brain.” A new study at the Heidelberg University in Germany found that to be true when they discovered a direct connection between cholesterol levels and cognitive decline in old age. The researchers concluded that individuals who carry the ApoE4 genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s might be able to reduce their risk of cognitive decline by reducing their cholesterol level, especially if they also have cardiovascular disease.
ApoE stands for apolipoprotein E, a protein that plays a critical role in the metabolism of blood lipids. Among other things, it transports cholesterol to nerve cells, which the latter require for signal exchange. There are three different genetic variants, or alleles, of the ApoE gene, which contains the blueprint for the ApoE protein. Carriers of the E4 allele, i.e. the ApoE4 genetic variant, have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s.
The scientists were particularly interested in the interaction between ApoE4 and cholesterol levels. For their analyses they used blood samples and medical data from two studies on older adults who also took cognitive tests for memory and concentration capacity. The ESTHER Study included 1,434 individuals over the age of 70, and the KAROLA Study had 366 participants over 50. The participants with lower levels of cholesterol performed better and the people with high levels had lower cognitive skills.High cholesterol and cardiovascular disease are potentially avoidable, said lead professor Dr. Hermann Brenner Deputy Director of the Network Aging Research (NAR). In many cases a healthy diet and lifestyle can reduce high cholesterol,” he said.
The best way to maintain a healthy heart and brain is to combine a healthy life style with a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fiber and low-fat protein, and exercise. Here’s how:
• Start an exercise program and stick with it. Begin at a beginner’s level. Low to moderate intensity in the beginning enhances enjoyment and helps prevent injury.
Include one high-quality, low-fat protein each day, such as: fresh fish, turkey or chicken, low-fat beef, eggs, low-fat dairy products, soy protein, tofu products, legumes (beans and rice together make a complete protein), etc.
• Fats are important! But it’s just important to know which fats to eat and which not to eat! Eat cold-pressed olive oil on your salad, cook with canola oil, and eat avocados, soy cheese, and goat cheese in moderation. You naturally obtain plenty of fat through foods like seeds and nuts, and low-fat dairy products, so maintain a watchful eye. And stay away from saturated fats such as butter. There’s lots of saturated fat in meat and dairy, so cut down on these types of
• Eat a whole foods, high-fiber diet including lots of colorful fruits and veggies, which contain heart-healthy flavonoids. These micronutrients—found only in plants—act as blood thinners and antioxidants that protect blood cells from disease.
• Reduce your intake of carbohydrates! Carbohydrates, especially sugars and starchy food, convert to glucose rapidly, triggering increases in insulin levels. Not only will it make you fat but insulin is highly atherogenic (causes athersclerosis).
• Add garlic, flaxseed oil and cold-water/deep sea fish to your diet to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
• Stop smoking!
• Practice a stress reduction technique such as yoga or meditation; get a massage.
• And don’t forget to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water to keep your body hydrated and to flush out toxins.