High LDL cholesterol linked to higher risk of heart disease

A higher level of LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol can increase the risk of death from heart disease, even in those who are otherwise healthy. (AFP Relaxnews pic)

Carried out by researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center along with The Cooper Institute, the large-scale, long-term study set out to investigate whether there was an association between levels of LDL cholesterol, also known as the “bad” cholesterol, and non-high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C), or the “good” cholesterol, and the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease in those considered to have a low risk of the conditions.

The researchers looked at 36,375 young and relatively healthy adults, free from diabetes or cardiovascular disease and with a median age of 42, and followed them for a period of 27 years to see if those who were believed to be at a low 10-year risk for heart health problems might still need to lower elevated cholesterol earlier, to reduce their risk of future heart problems.

Although previous research has already looked at the possible association between levels of LDL cholesterol and heart disease, they have typically have focused on individuals at moderate or high risk for cardiovascular disease.

The results of the new study showed that even for those considered low-risk, LDL levels were still independently associated with an increased chance of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Those with LDL levels in the range of 100-159 mg/dL had a 30 to 40% higher risk of cardiovascular disease death, when compared with participants who had LDL readings of under 100 mg/dL.

Those with LDL levels of 160 mg/dL or higher had a 70 to 90% increased risk of cardiovascular death.

However, the team did note that these findings did not take into account other risk factors.

“High cholesterol at younger ages means there will be a greater burden of cardiovascular disease as these individuals age. This research highlights the need to educate Americans of any age on the risks of elevated cholesterol, and ways to keep cholesterol at a healthy level throughout life,” said Robert Eckel, MD, former president of the American Heart Association and Director of the Lipid Clinic at University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora.

“Those with low risk should pursue lifestyle interventions, such as diet and exercise, to achieve LDLs levels as low as possible, preferably under 100 mg/dL. Limiting saturated fat intake, maintaining a healthy weight, discontinuing tobacco use, and increasing aerobic exercise should apply to everyone,” added the researchers.

The results were published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.