High cholesterol in youth may increase heart risks later in life

For the last couple of years, I’ve been offering my adolescent patients the option of checking their lipid panels, especially if they are overweight or obese. Now, new research is showing the wisdom of this approach. The Wall Street Journal reports that research published in the Annals of Family Medicine suggests that even younger people should pay attention to their cholesterol levels, being that they may have an impact on health later in life.

The Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” blog reported that researchers “analyzed data from 3,258 men and women who have been tracked by the CARDIA , or Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults, study for the last 20 years and were ages 18 to 30 at the start of the study.”

The investigators “found that participants with histories of high levels of the ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol were five and a half times as likely to have a buildup of calcium in their coronary arteries … than those who had optimal LDL cholesterol levels.”

The researchers also found that “rates of coronary calcium buildup were also higher in those who had suboptimal levels of the so-called ‘good’ cholesterol, high density lipoprotein, or HDL cholesterol, although this association was weaker.”

The New York Times reports in Vital Signs that “young adults tend to be notoriously lax about preventive health care, and cholesterol screening is no exception,” according to the new  study.

Barely “half of all young men and women are screened for high LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol,” according to the study by the CDC’s Elena Kuklina and others.

The research was based on “analysis of data on 2,587 young adults — including men aged 20 to 35 and women aged 20 to 45.”

Kuklina said “young adults should be screened, because heart disease is a chronic condition that can begin damaging blood vessels at an early age.”

In our practice we’ve certainly found scores of kids with surprisingly abnormal lipid panels. I, my patients, and their parents are certainly glad we did.