In addition to blood sugar, blood pressure, and body weight, cholesterol is another indicator of heart and vascular health. Now, a study in JAMA Cardiology found adults who maintained normal LDL cholesterol levels early in life and during middle age were less likely to develop coronary heart disease. The NHLBI-supported research was based on 18,288 adults who participated in one of four longitudinal cardiovascular research studies.
A unique feature of this analysis, which included data from adults for about 16 years, was the ability for researchers to assess how LDL cholesterol levels collected at different times throughout their life overlapped with future cardiovascular events. The researchers compared how at least two LDL cholesterol levels from participants, taken between ages 18-60, including one from midlife, tracked with incidents of coronary heart disease, stroke, and heart failure. They found adults with a history of higher LDL cholesterol levels had higher incidents of coronary heart disease, which was independent of their midlife LDL cholesterol readings.
The authors conclude that maintaining optimal LDL cholesterol levels at an earlier age may reduce the lifetime risk of coronary heart disease. To elucidate these mechanisms, they describe the early formation of atherosclerotic plaque, a narrowing of the arteries that starts with the accumulation of tiny LDL particles. Examples of ways adults can mitigate these types of cardiovascular disease risks include adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle and diet. The authors also underscore the importance of adults working with a physician to manage elevated cholesterol levels – especially if they have a family history of heart disease.