People don’t think about cardiovascular health until their 40s or 50s. Yet, most often, our decisions prior to this age can lead to cardiovascular illnesses. Unhealthy diets, smoking and other lifestyle habits that we make in our 20s and 30s, carrying into our 40s and 50s, all increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
But what if there was a way to predict the risk of a cardiovascular event 20 years before it occurred? According to promising research, it turns out that lipid markers may help do just that.
What Are Lipid Markers?
Lipid markers are variables, such as cholesterol and triglycerides, contained in the body’s lipids. They are composed of hydrocarbons and make up the body’s fats, oils and waxes. In fat cells, the lipid is called triglyceride, created through the body’s conversion of excess carbohydrates.
The primary function of lipids in the body is energy storage. However, an excessive build-up of cholesterol or triglycerides within the body’s lipids can endanger one’s cardiovascular system. As a result, lipids markers like cholesterol and triglycerides are commonly used to predict vascular diseases.
How Lipid Markers Indicate Risks for Heart Attacks
While these lipid markers have been known as predictors of vascular diseases, researchers have been studying their potential long-term predictive value for cardiovascular events as well. Researchers have found that high numbers of cholesterol low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) indicate an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This is likely what you’re familiar with if you’ve ever heard that high cholesterol can lead to a higher risk of a heart attack.
More interesting is the new body of research on the usage of lipid markers that carry this type of cholesterol in predicting cholesterol events. Researchers focused on apoB and apoA-1 coding genes, which transport LDL-C and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), respectively. They found that patients with a higher ratio of apoB to apoA-1 were three times as likely to have a heart attack than an average person. Moreover, the ratio of these markers could predict cardiovascular events 20 years into the future.
The ApoB Coding Gene
The reason for this predictive value lies in apoB and apoA-1’s function in the body. ApoB is the body’s mechanism for transporting cholesterol to tissue. Thus, the higher the apoB value in a person’s body, the higher the cholesterol is in that person’s body. It indicates that the body is transporting the cholesterol faster to the tissue than usual. This helps predict the likelihood of a future cardiovascular event because as cholesterol builds up, the cardiovascular system eventually will become impaired by the high amounts of cholesterol in the body’s tissues.
The ApoA-1 Coding Gene
On the other hand, ApoA-1 is used to transport cholesterol away from the tissues. ApoA-1 is the body’s janitor, cleaning tissue by removing cholesterol. The levels of apoA-1 in the body help researchers understand how effectively the body is removing cholesterol from its tissues. What this means for cardiovascular events is that the lower the apoA-1 value, the less effective the body is at removing cholesterol, allowing it to continue to build up and increasing the risk for cardiovascular events.
Essentially, apoB puts more cholesterol into the body’s tissues while apoA-1 removes it. So if the apoB marker is much higher than the apoA-1 marker, the body will put more cholesterol into your body’s tissues than it removes. This naturally increases the risk of cardiovascular events. Researchers can use these values to predict how quickly cholesterol will build up in the body and can use that data to predict cardiovascular events in the future.
Lipid Markers Can Supplement Conventional Cholesterol Measuring
Although promising, these lipid markers cannot replace conventional models for predicting cardiovascular events. Instead, lipid markers are best used to supplement the other methods for determining cardiovascular risk to create more accurate predictions. As researchers have noted, replacing total cholesterol screening with lipid marker tests does not improve predictions for cardiovascular disease; it may worsen them. The addition of lipid marker tests could improve the testing for certain forms of cardiovascular diseases.
A Parting Reminder
Lipid markers have shown to be a promising cardiovascular predictor. While the research on lipid markers is still in its infancy, they show a remarkable ability to improve cardiovascular event predictions. These markers may not be able to stand alone. Still, lipid markers could predict cardiovascular events far enough in advance for individuals to make the right lifestyle changes.
Luke Argue is a junior in the government department at Patrick Henry College. Aside from writing, Luke enjoys playing volleyball, reading about foreign affairs, and studying world cultures and religions.