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Connecting Triglycerides to Heart Disease

By Patricia Eifert

The lifetime risk of developing heart disease from the age of 40 years and up is as high as 50 percent for
males and an estimated 35 percent for women. Over the last decade remarkable progress has been
made in defining cardiovascular risk factors and many helpful drugs have been introduced as a way to
control the triggers of heart disease. In recent years there seems to be a decrease in cardiovascular
mortality in the UK and Western Europe yet the risk group is larger and the instances of younger incidents
of cardiovascular disease is increasing. Many doctors are now focusing on what causes initial
deterioration of the circulation system and how our changes in society and lifestyle impact cardiovascular
Three Risk Biomarkers

Over the years, researchers have observed the body's reactions to cardiovascular risk factors which
include smoking, obesity, sedentary lifestyle and diabetes, among other definitions, which have led to the
isolation of biomarkers. Yet due to the complicated nature of cardiovascular stress the question of
whether these biomarkers actually cause common cardiovascular risks or are just showing the method of
this disease is unknown. Three biomarkers that are known to be in the blood and associated with
cardiovascular issues includes both low- density lipoproteins and high-density lipoproteins, also known as
cholesterol, and other fats that are burned for fuel in our bodies which are called triglycerides.
All of these biomarkers are water-soluble molecules that are a part of the basic building blocks of all cells,
both in function and in structure. Once the results of the effect of these biomarkers on coronary disease
was established the role of low- density lipoproteins or LDL cholesterol and HDL was also recorded. The
good cholesterol, HDL, was previously thought of as a direct risk-reducing agent for CAD but recent
studies show no underlying connection to reduced risk on its own. The bad LDL cholesterol was found to
promote the depositing of fatty plaque on the artery walls, slowly blocking the free flow of blood to the
heart muscle, which eventually led to heart failure.
Treatments to Prevent Risk
The Scandinavian Simvastatin Survival Study showed that a reduction of high cholesterol level within the
range of 5.58.0 mmol/l in patients with known cardiovascular disease reduced major coronary events by
34 percent in both men and women. A group of cholesterol lowering drugs called statins can help lower
LDL levels in the blood, reducing the risk of heart failure by a third. Medication for hypertension is also
used as a way to minimise the risk for certain individuals including expecting or lactating mothers, women
on oral contraceptives, elderly individuals or those with high blood pressure. A family history of obesity or
diabetes will usually require a weight management plan to lower both cholesterol and blood pressure
issues whilst changing triglycerides levels in the blood.
The Missing Link?
Though the underlying mechanisms of each lipid's role are still being formulated, medical science has
recently focused on the third biomarker, triglycerides, in cardiovascular issues and related diseases to
understand how it increases CHD risk. A study by the GLGC reported in this weeks edition of Nature
Genetics found a relationship between elevated levels of of triglycerides and cardiovascular and
metabolic traits, including coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, blood pressure, waist-hip ratio and
body mass index. These results demonstrate the value of using genetic data from individuals of diverse
ancestry and provide insights into the biological mechanisms regulating blood lipids to guide future
genetic, biological and therapeutic research.
Researchers found confirming evidence from decades of medical studies that these triglycerides play a
part in coronary artery disease although exactly what that role is may be debated for years to come. One
theory is that lipoprotein particles carrying triglycerides in the blood, which are called triglyceride-rich
lipoproteins, are responsible for the fat deposits in the heart arteries like LDL. It seems that elevated
triglycerides increase cardiovascular risk more in women than in men, implying a gender difference in the
role of triglycerides in atherosclerosis.
The key then to preventing both first time CHD and minimising the risk of confirmed heart patients from
continued risk may just be to monitor triglyceride-rich lipoproteins and keep these levels low. Currently
there are a few drugs that target triglycerides in the testing phase so it is just a matter of time before the

right mechanism for lowering triglycerides comes into effect, further reducing cardiovascular mortality
rates and keeping Britons healthy and happy.