People are currently living longer than ever before – and while you would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks this is bad thing, it does come with its own unique set of challenges.
Namely an increase in the risk of developing several age-related diseases, with one of the most common being Alzheimer’s disease. However, recent research has indicated what you do in your thirties could be a serious contributor to Alzheimer’s risk.
But never fear – because you can do something about it.
High blood sugar and High cholesterol in middle age, and Alzheimer’s risk.
A recently published study has shown that people with higher levels of blood cholesterol and blood sugar in their thirties, forties, and fifties, may have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in their sixties and seventies compared to those with normal levels (Zhang 2022).
In short, people aged 35 to 50 with high levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) and low levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) were more likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in their 60s.
Similarly, those aged 50 to 60 years with higher levels of blood sugar were also at an increased risk of Alzheimer’s in their 60s and 70s when compared to those of the same age who had “normal” levels of blood sugar.
And why does this matter?
What is Alzheimer’s disease?
If you know what Alzheimer’s disease is, then it becomes apparent as to why this is such an interesting finding (Kumar 2015).
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia that negatively impacts memory, cognitive function, and behaviour. Some if the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:
- Memory loss
- Forgetting how to perform familiar tasks
- Inability to problem solve
- Loss of speech
- Loss of writing capabilities
- Wild mood changes
- Large changes in personality
These changes can seriously impact an individual’s ability to function, leading to rapid declines in quality of life. Incredibly, Alzheimer’s disease is thought to account for between 60 and 80 percent of all dementia cases – making it the most common mental issue on the planet.
There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s, but there are treatments that can slow the progression of the disease – and it is for this reason that these findings are so impactful.
What is of high blood sugar and high cholesterol?
We know that both high blood sugar and high blood cholesterol can contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease in later life – but what do “high” levels look like?
High blood sugar is diagnosed under two conditions:
- Under fasted conditions, with a blood sugar level of more than 130 mg/dL (milligrams per decilitre) after not eating or drinking for at least 8 hours, or:
- Under postprandial (i.e., after eating) conditions, with a blood sugar level that’s higher than 180 mg/dL 2 hours after eating.
Conversely, most governing bodies would consider cholesterol levels above 200 mg/dL to be “high” – although there is a little more nuance here that needs to be discussed.
There are two types of cholesterol:
- Low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is considered the “bad” type of cholesterol, and:
- High Density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is considered the “good” type of cholesterol.
LDL is known as “bad cholesterol” because it carries cholesterol molecules to your arteries, where it can accumulate in your arterial walls. This may lead to a build-up of plaque (known as atherosclerosis), which is a known risk factors for heart disease.
Conversely, HDL is known as “good cholesterol” because it transports cholesterol from your heart and to your liver, where it is broken down and released from the body. HDL helps remove excess cholesterol, making it less likely to accumulate on your arterial walls.
Most often when blood cholesterol is measured, it is measured in the form of “total” cholesterol, which is these two combined. However, more recently it has been suggested that having higher levels of HDL may be a good thing, with LDL being the thing you should be concerned about.
Considering this, most people now consider having more than 175 mg/dL of LDL to be “high”.
Related Article: Walking After Eating: An Effective Way to Manage Blood Sugar
Optimal blood sugar and cholesterol levels
You might be wondering what the optimal levels of blood sugar and blood cholesterol are – and we have got you covered.
With the respect to blood sugar, you want to aim for 72 to 99 mg/dL under fasted conditions, and less than 140 mg/dL 2 hours after eating.
And for blood cholesterol, you want to aim for a total cholesterol level of around 125 to 200mg/dL, LDL levels of less than 100 mg/dL, and HDL levels higher than 55 mg/dL.
How and how often to test these levels
It has been estimated that approximately 50% of the adults in first world western countries have either high blood sugar or high cholesterol – with a substantial portion having a combination of the two.
Given this finding, it is often suggested that children and adolescents should have their blood glucose and cholesterol checked at least once between ages 9 and 11 years, and then once again between the ages between 17 and 21 years.
After this, it is recommended that adults get their levels checked every 4-6 years – although this gap will get smaller if the person has already been diagnosed with either high blood sugar or high cholesterol.
Keeping on top of your levels: Tips for maintaining healthy blood sugar and cholesterol
So, how to lower blood cholesterol, and how to lower blood sugar?
When it comes to keeping your levels in a healthy range, it really comes down to a couple of key lifestyle factors, being diet and exercise (Asif 2014; Albarrati 2018; Rosenthal 2000).
Adapting your diet is one of the most powerful things you can do to optimise your blood sugar and cholesterol levels – and here are some key tips:
- Increase your healthy fat intake: There is a growing body of research indicating that increasing your intake of healthy fats from avocados, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and olive oil can help reduce LDL cholesterol and blood sugar, while also increasing your good HDL
cholesterol. However, this should occur with a reduction in dietary fats coming from processed oils.
- Reduce refined sugars: processed sugary carbohydrates that are come from candy, ice cream, baked goods, and soft drink have been shown to negatively affect both blood cholesterol and blood sugar – so keep them to a minimum.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are full to the brim with fibre, which has been shown to improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels. Try and consume five servings of vegetables, and two servings of fruit, per day.
- Increase your lean protein intake: Diets rich in lean sources of protein (i.e., poultry, red meat, and some fish) have been associated with lower levels of blood sugar and cholesterol for decades. Make sure your diet includes them.
Related Article: How Much Protein Should You Eat?
After diet, we have exercise – and really, it should come as no surprise that it has also been shown to have a HUGE impact on your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Both aerobic and resistance training have been shown to contribute to better metabolic profiles, although there is reason to believe that biasing your training regime more on the “cardiovascular” side may have a larger impact on cholesterol levels specifically.
With this in mind, we recommend:
- Aiming for 2-3 whole body weight training sessions per week
- Aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate (or 75 minutes of high) intensity aerobic exercise per week
- Striving for up to 250 total minutes of aerobic exercise
- 1-2 high intensity interval training session per week
If you tick these boxes, you can be sure that you are doing more than enough to optimise your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Its not too late to start
Now, it is important to note that, despite this new research suggesting that the earlier you start the better, it is never too late to start (Langhammer 2018).
There is an abundance of research clearly demonstrating that adopting a healthy lifestyle in your older years (i.e., 65 years and older) will have a notable impact on not only your blood sugar and cholesterol levels, but also on your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
With this in mind, starting late is always better than never starting at all.
With a clear link between blood sugar, blood cholesterol, and risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, there has never been more reason to start looking after yourself – and the earlier the better, at that.
However, don’t forget that taking these same steps in even your seventies and eighties will have a profound impact on your health, function, and quality of life.
In short, it is never too late to start.
Zhang, Xiaoling, et al. 2022. “Midlife lipid and glucose levels are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.” Alzheimer’s & Dementia.
Kumar, Anil, and Arti Singh. “A review on Alzheimer’s disease pathophysiology and its management: an update.” Pharmacological reports 67.2 (2015): 195-203.
Asif, Mohammad. “The prevention and control the type-2 diabetes by changing lifestyle and dietary pattern.” Journal of education and health promotion 3 (2014).
Albarrati, Ali M., et al. “Effectiveness of low to moderate physical exercise training on the level of low-density lipoproteins: a systematic review.” BioMed Research International 2018 (2018).
Rosenthal, Robert L. “Effectiveness of altering serum cholesterol levels without drugs.” Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings. Vol. 13. No. 4. Taylor & Francis, 2000.
Langhammer, Birgitta, Astrid Bergland, and Elisabeth Rydwik. “The importance of physical activity exercise among older people.” BioMed research international 2018 (2018).
New Research on How to Prevent Alzheimer’s Now » ForeverFitScience is written by FastTwitchGrandma Team for foreverfitscience.com