A team of British researchers have identified a common genetic variation that can increase the risk of high cholesterol. The study, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, may help to explain why the same gene has previously been linked with increased chance of heart disease, the UK's biggest killer.
'People knew this genetic marker was associated with a higher risk of heart disease, and the new findings show why -- it is associated with high cholesterol,' Professor Patricia Munroe, study leader and geneticist at the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, told Reuters.
Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) - a condition which kills 1 in 4 men and 1 in 6 women in the UK each year - is caused by a build-up of plaque in the arteries leading to restricted blood flow and high blood pressure. One of the main contributors to this plaque forming is Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL), a type of cholesterol which accumulates in the blood as the result of a diet high in saturated fats. People with high cholesterol can reduce their risk of heart disease by taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, reducing the amount of saturated fat in their diet, and by eating more high-fibre foods and oily fish.
The researchers performed a bank of 25 tests commonly used to assess heart disease risk - including cholesterol, sodium and glucose, or blood sugar, levels - on blood and urine samples from 2,000 men and women with high blood pressure. They then scanned the entire genomes of the group to see which gene variations were linked to having a high risk of heart disease, leading them to discover a gene change within a region on chromosome 1. The researchers then scaled up the study, looking for the same gene change in a further 3,000 people with high blood pressure, and found that the same gene change was associated with high cholesterol in this group.
Professor Jeremy Pearson of the British Heart Foundation believes the findings could help to reduce the number of deaths from heart disease, a condition which each year kills an estimated 233,000 people in the UK, and 16.7 million people world-wide. "This finding has the potential to lead to the development of new drugs to help lower cholesterol levels which in turn could help thousands of heart patients across the UK," he told the BBC.