|High cholesterol levels are known to contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, making them primary risk factors for heart problems / Photo by: Rocos via Shutterstock|
High cholesterol levels are known to contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, making them primary risk factors for heart problems. Doctors recommend having a healthy lifestyle of eating nutritious food, exercising, and avoiding bad health habits like smoking and drinking early in life. However, Time says most people don't consider the effects of cholesterol nor the possibility of heart disease until later in life.
Now, a new study provides another reason why people should start thinking about their cholesterol and do something about it. The results confirmed that high levels of "bad" cholesterol are linked to long-term risk of cardiovascular disease, prompting the researchers to encourage young people to change their eating and exercise habits as well as speak with their doctor about medications.
Possibility of Heart Problems in Young and Older Adults
The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Lancet, analyzed the records of 400,000 people without cardiovascular disease. Each study began with measuring the participants' cholesterol levels and asking them about their medical histories, lifestyle, and demographics. They were followed for 43 years, after which nearly 55,000 participants developed heart disease or stroke.
According to Time, the researchers of the new study used this information to determine the link between baseline cholesterol levels and heart issues later in life. It was also used to develop a model for predicting a person's risk of heart problems based on key variables such as age, sex, and risk factors (e.g. blood pressure, smoking habits, medication, etc).
The researchers used that model and estimated that a man younger than 45 has a 29% chance of having a heart problem by age 75 if their "bad" cholesterol level is between 145-185 mg/DL and if they have at least two other risk factors linked to heart disease. A man older than 60, on the other hand, with the same characteristics has a 21% chance of developing the same complications.
For women, the numbers were estimated at 16% and 12%, respectively.
The difference in the percentage could be explained by the fact that younger adults, who already have high cholesterol, have an outlook on the damage over a longer period of time, the authors said in a statement. They added that for older adults, the complication may have developed later on—giving them less time for the disease to reach dangerous levels.
"The increased risk in younger people could be due to the longer exposure to harmful lipids in the blood," explained Barbara Thorand, author of the study and researcher with the German Research Center for Environmental Health in Germany.
Time reports that it's also possible that the older adults who met the researcher's initial criteria for having heart problems have better health compared to their peers.
|According to Time, the researchers of the new study used this information to determine the link between baseline cholesterol levels and heart issues later in life / Photo by: wavebreakmedia via Shutterstock|
Lowering Cholesterol Levels
The results of the study suggest that the current calculation of cholesterol levels may be underestimating the risk, although the researchers noted that more work still needs to be done.
Further calculating the risk, the researchers hypothesized that if people younger than 45 years old were to lower their bad cholesterol levels by half, they would see a significantly reduced risk of heart problems. By doing so, men would lower their risk of developing any cardiovascular disease to 6% while women would reduce it to 4% in spite of risk factors.
Roger Blumenthal, director of the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, praised the Lancet study saying it was an "extremely well-done analysis" that's "very helpful to clinicians and patients."
The director, who did not work on the new study, said that consultations between doctor and patient are the "key" to having good heart health and the results of the study could be a part of the conversation.
"Now there is [an] even greater long-term data, in such a large number of patients, that shows why striving for lower cholesterol numbers is so important," he told CNN. Blumenthal helped in writing the current American Heart Association (AHA) cholesterol treatment guidelines, which suggest starting lifestyle changes first in lowering bad cholesterol levels.
Based on the AHA guidelines, CNN says people should exercise for 30 minutes a day for five days a week and avoid smoking or using tobacco products. The news agency adds that calories should be kept at a healthy amount: about 1,600 to 2,400 calories per day for adult women and 2,000 and 3,000 calories a day for adult men.
For patients whose cholesterol levels remain high despite the lifestyle changes, taking a statin—a class of drugs often prescribed to help lower cholesterol levels in the blood—earlier can help reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
The Lancet study strengthens the idea that early intervention to maintain desirable cholesterol levels is better than waiting until later in life, and that doctor-patient discussion should tackle this clearly and early. Above everything else, a lifetime of making good health choices will lead to good heart health, with diet and exercise as the foundation of preventing heart disease.