For many years, doctors were unsure whether triglycerides — another form of fat in the blood, along with cholesterol — played any role in heart disease. Physicians often virtually ignored a patient’s triglyceride count.
Now a study at the University of Cambridge in England has begun to unravel the often contradictory findings on triglycerides.
One important part of the story appears to be why a patient has high triglyceride levels. If the tendency to high triglyceride levels has a genetic basis — if it’s an inherent part of the individual’s biochemistry — then high triglyceride counts correlate with an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease, in some cases by as much as 40 percent.
“We found that people with a genetically programmed tendency for higher triglyceride levels also have a greater risk of heart disease,” said lead researcher Nadeem Sarwar, a lecturer in cardiovascular epidemiology at Cambridge. “This suggests that triglyceride pathways may be involved in the development of heart disease.”
The researchers looked at mutations in the apolipoprotein A5 gene, which plays a role in determining triglyceride levels. For every copy of the variant, there was a 16 percent increase in triglyceride concentrations. Two copies equaled a 32 percent increase, which correlates with a 40 percent increased risk of heart disease.
As a physician, I would say this provides good reason for running lipid panels on teenagers and young adults, which is not always standard practice. During the teen and young adult years, a tendency to high triglyceride levels can show up even in the absence of elevated cholesterol levels.
With that knowledge, doctors can inform such patients that they should be particularly careful about developing other risk factors for heart disease.
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