For years, researchers have known that elevated cholesterol is tied to a host of diseases and conditions, mostly related to the heart. But a recent study offered up a surprising finding: Even borderline high levels of cholesterol can predict whether or not someone will suffer from Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia as they age.

In this study, more than 9,800 people who used the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Medical Group were followed. All had blood work done at the medical group between 1964 and 1973, and all were between the ages of 40 and 45 at the time. Several decades later, almost 600 of the people studied had developed Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia. The ones whose total cholesterol was at least 240 milligrams per deciliter were found to be 57 percent more likely to have developed Alzheimer's. But even those whose cholesterol was between 200 and 239 milligrams per deciliter-considered borderline high—were 50 percent more likely to have developed Alzheimer's than those whose cholesterol had stayed in the normal range.  

The takeaway? Alzheimer's and other degenerative brain diseases may possibly be prevented by following a cholesterol-lowering regimen, and midlife is not too soon to begin thinking about the issue. Far from being limited by luck or genetics, people with Alzheimer's risk factors can take definite control of their future health and work to get their total cholesterol reduced to less than 200 milligrams per deciliter, the level at which Alzheimer's risk is lowest. Exercise, better food choices and, in some cases, cholesterol-lowering drugs can all have a beneficial effect.