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February is National Heart Month, a public awareness campaign devised by the British Heart Foundation to raise awareness of cardiovascular health issues, such as high cholesterol - a major risk in developing heart disease. So it seems timely for the release of new research1 published in the journal Circulation that suggests that slightly raised cholesterol levels in mid-life can significantly increase the risk of heart disease in later life. The study, which followed just under 1,500 people, found that for every decade an individual had mildly high cholesterol between the ages of 35 to 55, their risk of heart disease increased by approximately 40%.
These unchecked years of mildly-high cholesterol, which the researchers called 'lipid years', can take their toll according to this new research. Last year, there was a change in NICE guidelines that encouraged doctors to recommend statins more widely, even to those considered a low risk of developing heart disease. However, Dr Ann Marie Navar-Boggan, lead author of the study, suggests more emphasis should be made to first alter an individual's diet and increase their exercise, before prescribing medication.
Dr Navar-Boggan also suggests that more effort should be made to look after our heart health in earlier life. "What we do to our blood vessels in our 20s, 30s and 40s lays the foundation for disease in later life, and if we wait until our 50s or 60s to think about heart disease prevention, an important opportunity is already lost."
Heart disease is still the UK's biggest killer, accounting for approximately 33% of all deaths. However, death rates in younger age groups is increasing, which suggests complacency amongst 35-55 year olds.
The new study, based in the US, tracked the health of 1,478 participants over several decades. At age 55, nearly 40% had at least 10 years of exposure to high cholesterol. Their risk of developing heart disease was 16.5%, which was almost four times as much as those with low cholesterol. Each decade of high cholesterol increased the risk of heart disease by 39%.
Doireann Maddock of the British Heart Foundation commented on the research, "This study suggests that even slightly high cholesterol levels in otherwise healthy adults between the ages of 35 and 55 can have a long-term impact on heart health."
"It's never too early to start thinking about your heart health. By eating a healthy diet and keeping physically active you can help improve your cholesterol level."
1. Navar-Boggan, A. M, et al (2015) Hyperlipidemia in Early Adulthood Increases Long-Term Risk of Coronary Heart Disease. Circulation.