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Cholesterol-gene link found

Thursday December 24th, 2009

British researchers have pinned down a kind of cholesterol that causes heart disease and cannot be controlled by diet or exercise.

Some people are especially susceptible to heart disease caused by the cholesterol, known as lipoprotein (a) or Lp(a), because they have two particular genetic variations, according to an analysis published last night.

About one in six people carry the gene variations and face a 50 per cent increased risk of developing heart disease because of naturally occurring high levels of Lp(a).

Doctors said drugs such as Niacin could help reduce Lp(a) levels although diet and exercise had no impact.

Researcher Professor Martin Farrall, of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, Oxford, UK, said the risk was not as bad as that from low density lipoprotein, LDL - the unhealthy form of cholesterol - which is increased by poor diet and lack of exercise.

He said: "Lp(a) doesn't trump LDL, which has a larger impact and which we can already control pretty effectively. The hope now is that by targeting both we could get even better risk reduction."

Professor Peter Wiessberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said it would not be easy to measure Lp(a) levels in blood.

He said: "According to this study, analysis of individuals' DNA code could give a better indication of risk but this application is a long way off.

"In the short-term the findings are useful because they highlight the importance of trying to lower Lp(a), which will spark new efforts to design a medicine to achieve this effectively, and they reveal clues that open a new avenue for research to decipher how heart disease develops."

Genetic variants associated with Lp(a) lipoprotein concentrations and coronary disease risk. R Clarke et al. New England Journal of Medicine 2009; 361: 2518-2528

Tags: Diet & Food | Heart Health | UK News

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