Coronary Artery Disease and Its Risk Factors

What's bad for your heart is also bad for your brain. Conditions that are risk factors for cerebrovascular disease and heart disease, such as high cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes, increase the risk of memory problems. Controlling these disorders with medication, dietary changes, and exercise can help keep your memory in optimal condition.

High Cholesterol. If your total cholesterol level is high, you're more likely to suffer memory problems in the years ahead than if the level is what doctors now consider optimal—less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), as shown in Table 5.1. Specifically, people with elevated cholesterol are at increased risk of a number of brain disorders, including mild cognitive impairment, stroke, and Alzheimer's disease.

We don't know exactly how high cholesterol leads to memory loss or whether the crucial factor is excessive low-density lipopro-

table 5.1 Cholesterol and Triglyceride Levels

Total Cholesterol Level

Category

Less than 200 mg/dL

Desirable

200-239 mg/dL

Borderline high

240 mg/dL and above

High

LDL Cholesterol Level

Category

Less than 100 mg/dL

Optimal

100-129 mg/dL

Near/above optimal

130-159 mg/dL

Borderline high

160-189 mg/dL

High

190 mg/dL and above

Very high

HDL Cholesterol Level

Category

Less than 40 mg/dL

Low (representing increased risk)

60 mg/dL and above

High (heart-protective)

Triglyceride Level

Category

Less than 150 mg/dL

Normal

150-199 mg/dL

Borderline high

200-499 mg/dL

High

500 mg/dL and above

Very high

Adapted from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III) Final Report, May 2001, p. 13.

Adapted from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III) Final Report, May 2001, p. 13.

teins (LDL, the "bad" cholesterol) or insufficient high-density lipoproteins (HDL, the "good" cholesterol). But there is some preliminary evidence from some recent studies that people with elevated cholesterol who are treated with statins, a class of cholesterol-lowering medications, may gain the additional benefit of decreasing their risk for Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment. More definitive studies are under way to determine the potential role of statins in the prevention and treatment of dementia.

Hypertension. Regardless of age, you're more prone to memory impairment if you have high blood pressure than if you have normal blood pressure. Moreover, your memory impairment is likely

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