Oxysterols and Alzheimer’s Disease

In the search for the cause and the cure for Alzheimer’s Disease, a debilitating brain disease that is the most common cause of dementia today, science has discovered a number of connections and possible causes. Everything from aluminum exposure as a possible cause to brain teasers and puzzles as something that might help stave it off have been examined. Cholesterol is often discussed in medical articles as the cause for any number of diseases, but one by-product of the body’s use of cholesterol has a particular significance in Alzheimer’s research—oxysterols.

Elderly male patient with alzheimer's disease doing test

What Are Oxysterols?

Oxysterols are substances that are created as our bodies use and break down the elements in cholesterol. We’ve all heard how it’s important to keep our cholesterol levels down, and that our “good” cholesterol number, or HDL, should be normal or above normal, for better health. But it plays a more important role than that. Oxysterols that are produced from our bodies using cholesterol are meant to be broken down by the liver. However, people with a number of diseases like hardened arteries and Multiple Sclerosis have been found to have extremely high level of oxysterols in their bodies. This has been found in some patients with Alzheimer’s Disease, as well.

Connection between Alzheimer’s disease and oxysterols?

The reason science is taking a hard look at the link between oxysterols and Alzheimer’s is that our central nervous system contains the highest concentration of cholesterol in our bodies. Our brains need cholesterol to function properly. Many people believe that cholesterol is simply something to be watched in the diet to avoid heart disease and arteriosclerosis, but it’s something that’s vital for life.


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While cholesterol itself doesn’t actually cross the blood-brain barrier, some of its by-products do. So any cholesterol-related processes that take place will affect the brain and nervous system heavily, most likely more than any other bodily system. The amount of cholesterol found here isn’t as much affected by diet but by the way the body essentially creates its own cholesterol.

Only about a dozen of the known oxysterols have been studied, and much more research is needed for the many that we haven’t explored. Scientists do say that since the oxysterols are created when our bodies utilize cholesterol, and that a great deal of the cholesterol we have is produced by our bodies and not thanks to diet, a change in diet won’t affect the levels that might be linked to Alzheimer’s and other diseases.

But as science discovers correlations between oxysterols and disease, connections can be made that will help them find the cause of some diseases, and hopefully even the cure. In late 2010 in St. Louis, researchers found a link between exceedingly high amounts of two oxysterols in people with a fatal metabolic disorder called Niemann-Pick Type C. A third oxysterol level was found to point directly at how severe the symptoms were at the time.

The Future of Oxysterol Research?

This type of research may lead to a cure for this disease, or some type of treatment that halts the progression. Even a treatment that slows this fatal disease and other diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease could be on the horizon, thanks to oxysterol research. And even before a cure may be found, scientists’ understanding of the link between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s may help them discover who is at the highest risk to develop the disease so those people can take steps early on to try to forestall or prevent it.

Cole Watts

Cole Watts writes on behalf of US Medical Supplies, an online retailer of medical equipment and mobility aides.

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