High cholesterol and high blood pressure before the age of 55 may have a lasting impact on your chances of developing heart disease later in life, according to a new study.
Published December 20 in the scientific journal PLoS One, the analysis of health data from nearly 300,000 adults found that elevated systolic blood pressure and LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) in early to middle life was associated with increased coronary heart disease risk even if individuals reduced these measures when they were older.
“The earlier in life your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are higher, the more damage you’re accruing to your heart and vascular system,” says Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD, a cardiologist and the chair of the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
“So it is critically important to not only address these things in midlife, it’s even more important to address them in early life and to make sure you’re keeping these measures as low as possible for as long as possible,” adds Dr. Lloyd-Jones, who was not involved in the new research.
Disease Risk Rises With Levels of Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
Drawing on information from the UK Biobank (a large-scale biomedical database including genetic, lifestyle, and health information), scientists considered data on 136,648 participants for cholesterol, 135,431 for blood pressure, and 24,052 for coronary heart disease.
The scientific modeling suggested that elevated systolic blood pressure and LDL cholesterol early in life appeared to increase the risk of coronary heart disease — independent of those levels later in life. Elevated blood pressure at age 55 or younger was linked to 33 percent higher likelihood of heart disease after age 55, and elevated cholesterol at those younger ages was associated with 68 percent higher odds of developing heart disease later in life.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the optimal LDL cholesterol level is about 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) (or 5.6 millimoles per liter) and normal systolic blood pressure is less than 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
Lifestyle Changes Provide Benefit at Any Age
That said, Lloyd-Jones stresses that it’s never too late to lower heart disease risk through lifestyle changes and medications — it’s just that taking action earlier leads to better results.
To help prevent cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association recommends diet and exercise habits — as well as cholesterol-cutting and blood-pressure-reducing medications.
Lloyd-Jones points out that the methodology used in the study relied on data related to an individual’s genetic predisposition for heart disease, and the research was limited in that it didn’t account for many specific risk factors, such as smoking and obesity.
“Your genetic makeup may help you understand your predisposition, but it is not your destiny,” he says. “Your destiny is in your own hands and it is strongly influenced by your lifestyle more than anything else.”