Having high cholesterol levels not only puts your heart at risk, but a new study shows it may endanger your mind as well and raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers found that a protein involved in the formation of the brain-clogging plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease may also play a role in cholesterol regulation.

They say the findings may explain the link found in prior studies between high cholesterol levels and to increasing levels of a protein called amyloid-beta (Aβ) that forms the plaques found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.

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In the study, published in Nature Cell Biology, researchers found that a larger protein called amyloid precursor protein (APP), which generates Aβ proteins, also helps in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels.

Researchers say one non-Alzheimer’s-related function of the APP is related to cholesterol metabolism, which suggests a vicious circle in which plaque-forming amyloid beta protein levels are controlled by cholesterol, and cholesterol, in turn controls amyloid beta levels.

Such a spiraling mechanism could result in both amyloid-beta protein and cholesterol levels spinning out of control and promote the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

If further studies confirm these results, researchers say cholesterol management may be incorporated in to treatments for Alzheimer’s disease.

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By Jennifer Warner , reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Grimm, M. Nature Cell Biology, Oct. 9, 2005 advance online edition. News release, Nature.