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Cholesterol and the risk of dementia

Research suggests that high cholesterol may be linked to increased risks of dementia. Statins may help reduce the risk.

Can high cholesterol increase the risk of dementia?

There is currently not enough evidence to say that high blood cholesterol is a major risk factor of developing dementia.

Evidence suggests there is a relationship between a person having high cholesterol levels and going on to develop dementia. However, people with high cholesterol levels often have other health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity, which are themselves risk factors for dementia. Separating these factors in terms of dementia risk is complex.

How to reduce the risk of dementia

A lifelong approach to good health is the best way to lower your risk of dementia.

There are some lifestyle behaviours with enough evidence to show that changing them will reduce your risk of dementia.

Reduce your risk of dementia

About cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is found in every cell in your body and has many roles. It forms part of the outer layer of every cell, helps keeps bones, muscle, skin and teeth healthy, and also helps nerves work properly.

Cholesterol is transported in the bloodstream. Its levels can be measured by a doctor. Our bodies make cholesterol naturally and we can also get it from certain foods.

Can statins reduce dementia risk?

Statins are drugs that are used to reduce the levels of cholesterol in the blood. The relationship between statins and dementia is complex.

In the past, there have been concerns that short-term use of statins caused memory loss and confusion in a small number of people. This has been widely reported in the media but recent studies have generally not found this link. In many cases, symptoms stopped after stopping the medication. This would suggest that the memory loss is not related to dementia, which would continue to get worse.

Many people take statins to reduce their risk of heart attacks and strokes. There have been many studies that have looked to see if this appears to alter the risk of dementia. Several reviews comparing data from many studies, concluded that statins reduced the risk of developing dementia by about 15%.

Looking at specific diseases, statins reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by about 30% and reduced the risk of vascular dementia by about 7%.

Cholesterol in the brain is important for the health of brain cells, and this may be affected in dementia. The gene that most affects the risk of late-onset Alzheimer's disease, ApoE4, plays a role in the processing and use of cholesterol.

Understanding this may lead to clues about the changes in the brain that cause dementia. Especially as changes in cholesterol processing in the brain may not be related to the levels of cholesterol in the blood.

More research is needed to better understand cholesterol in the brain.

One study analysed the link between cholesterol levels and the development of dementia in nearly one million people. It showed that high levels of a specific sort of cholesterol (called HDL) in the blood were associated with an increased risk of developing dementia.

However, cholesterol from the blood cannot enter the brain. The brain does use cholesterol, but it makes it ‘in-house’. So how blood cholesterol influences cholesterol in the brain and how this relates to dementia risk is yet to be understood.

Further reading

Molecules linked to cholesterol have been found to be connected to dementia.

Find out more

Find out what having high cholesterol means and how you can lower it.

Find out more

Learn about statins and how they reduce cholesterol in your blood.

Find out more

Last reviewed: December 2023

Next review: December 2025