Your Health

Early Cholesterol Problems Spell Trouble For Middle-Aged Arteries

Researchers say too much cholesterol isn't safe — at any age.

What you eat when you're young can make a big difference in how healthy your heart is later. Carbon NYC/Flickr hide caption

itoggle caption Carbon NYC/Flickr

And a recent study suggests it really does matter what you eat and how much you exercise in your 20s and 30s.

How come? A heart-healthy diet and regular exercise can lower LDL, or "bad" cholesterol. That's the stuff that can really clog up arteries that feed the heart.  And, it turns out, the clogging process starts early.

So it's never too soon to start being nicer to your heart. Seems obvious, right? But researchers say the medical community hasn't fully appreciated the consequences of high cholesterol during young adulthood.

Now, though, a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine sheds some interesting light on how plaques build up.

Researchers found individuals who had moderate or high levels of bad cholesterol or lower levels of HDL, the good cholesterol, as young adults were more likely to develop spots of calcium in plaques of their coronary arteries. Those calcium deposits can be seen by a CT scanner and are a marker for heart disease.

Bottom line: 44 percent of people with abnormal cholesterol in their 20s developed coronary calcium by their mid-40s, compared with only 8 percent of those with normal cholesterol levels.

The study began in 1985 and involved healthy, young men and women in their 20s. Researchers followed the nearly 3,300 people for two decades.  Researchers measured cholesterol levels and triglycerides (blood fat) over the 20 years.

The work was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

If you want to calculate your risk of developing a heart problem, try this 10-year disease-risk calculator.

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