We’ve been told for years to watch our cholesterol. Now a new study from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) and Lund University in Montreal, Canada has added a reason to keep cholesterol low early in life.
Their research shows that the key to preventing aortic valve disease is keeping “bad” cholesterol or LDL low.
Aortic valve disease affects approximately five million people in the United States. It is the most common reason people need surgery to replace the aortic valve.
The aortic valve allows oxygen-rich blood to flow out of the heart to the aorta, which is a large blood vessel that branches out to send blood throughout the body.
Cholesterol is a substance that is waxy and similar to fat. It is found in all cells in the body where it helps digest food and is used to make hormones and vitamin D. Your body is able to make all the cholesterol it needs, but additional cholesterol comes from certain foods.
There are two types of cholesterol in the body. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are known as “good” cholesterol because your body needs healthy levels of HDL to function.
Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are known as “bad” cholesterol. When LDL is high, calcium and cholesterol can build up on the insides of blood vessels, reducing the flow of blood.
If you are told you have high cholesterol it typically means you have high levels of LDL. This can increase your risk of getting heart disease or having a stroke.
Researcher Dr. George Thanassoulis at RI-MUHC said that the study shows that people with high LDL are also at increased risk of developing aortic valve disease.
The RI-MUHC study tracked approximately 35,000 people in the Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology (CHARGE) Consortium, which is an international collaborative.
The researchers concluded that high LDL was associated with a buildup of calcium in the aortic valve. This causes the opening of the valve to narrow, allowing less blood to flow through and causing aortic valve disease. This condition can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, fainting or heart failure.
Previous studies have shown a connection with high LDL, but were not able to show any benefit for patients with advanced aortic valve disease who tried to lower their cholesterol to slow the progression of their condition.
The RI-MUHC study suggested that lowering LDL needs to happen earlier, before the onset of aortic valve disease, in order to reduce the risk of developing aortic valve disease.
The study’s first author Dr. J. Gustav Smith from the Department of Cardiology at Lund University said, "Our work provides confirmation that cholesterol is an important factor in the early stages of aortic valve disease and suggests that lowering cholesterol early in the disease process may provide protection from the development of aortic valve disease."
Lowering cholesterol is known to reduce or stop the buildup of plaque deposits in blood vessels which can reduce the risk of heart disease and blood clots that can cause stroke.
RI-MUHC scientists say that further research is needed to confirm the results of this study.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and was presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Vancouver.
Science Daily. Key to aortic valve disease prevention: Lowering cholesterol early. Web. October 30, 2014.
Medline Plus. Aortic valve surgery – open. Web. October 30, 2014.
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. What Is Cholesterol? Web. October 30, 2014.
Reviewed November 3, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith