August 3rd, 2010
04:19 PM ET

Study: Early high cholesterol can signal trouble

Elevated cholesterol – particularly LDL, or bad cholesterol – early in life can signal danger later in life, according to a new study.

The study followed more than 3,000 people for 20 years, checking cholesterol levels along the way. At the conclusion of the study, researchers checked partcipants' coronary calcium score – a measure of cardiac risk.

"Of those who had elevated LDL cholesterol levels over 160 [at the beginning of the study], 44 percent had coronary calcification by the end of the study, compared to seven percent in those with optimal LDL levels," said Dr. Mark Pletcher, lead study author, and associate professor of epidemiology at the University of California San Francisco.

Pletcher said although it is no secret that high cholesterol often leads to heart disease, this is among the first studies to show that high cholesterol, even at a young age, can signal trouble later on.

"We found that the damage done early in life appears to persist into adulthood," said Pletcher.

He says people should have their cholesterol checked early in their lives and regularly.

"There is an argument that we wouldn't be treating high cholesterol in children, so why know about it," said Pletcher. "I've always believed that if there's something you want to change, you have to be measuring it. Even without medication, you can affect your cholesterol levels with diet and exercise."

According to the US Preventive Services Task Force guidelines, cholesterol screening is recommended only for men over the age of 35, and women over the age of 45; unless there are significant risk factors that may warrant earlier testing. The American Heart Association guidelines differ significantly, advocating cholesterol testing for both men and women at the age of 20.  And a recent statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics advocates testing at-risk children as early as age 2.

Although these guidelines may be contradictory and somewhat confusing, Pletcher says one fact remains.

"You should be eating healthy and exercising no matter what your cholesterol level is."

soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. Diana

    My boyfriend is young (22-26 range), in good shape, works out regularly and eats healthy food but has low levels of good cholesterol with a normal level of bad cholesterol which is apparently just as bad as having high levels of bad cholesterol! I hope this can be remedied so his heart won't be at risk later on in life! 🙁

    August 3, 2010 at 16:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cbd Oils

      I can not believe what I just learned. Your blog really jacks me up! I am surprised at how slow your article loaded on my mobile. I'm not sure where you are getting this info, but great topic.


      December 17, 2018 at 19:14 | Report abuse |
  2. Jeff

    Diana, do NOT listen to doctors that tell you to take drugs for high cholesterol. Research how the cholesterol 'epidemic' is a total lie. You can have high cholesterol and be fine. I myself had high cholesterol at one point and the doc immediately wanted to put me on a drug. I said NO WAY and researched another route. I took flax oil and oatmeal for two months straight and my cholesterol dropped 30 points. NO LIE. Do NOT take drugs for this.

    August 3, 2010 at 17:10 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Liz

      Okay, 30 points is nice but my cholesterol is 90 points too high. I'm a size 2, in the military and thus constantly working out, and eat a very very healthy diet. It's a genetic thing that no amount of fish oil, oatmeal, cheerios or whatever else not can fix. I know, I've tried. Maybe you should not give out MEDICAL advice unless you are a DOCTOR because many people on here might give themselves a heart attack trying to avoid drugs because you said so. Better to speak with a professional than some dude commenting on a story, folks.

      August 3, 2010 at 19:26 | Report abuse |
    • Prem

      I agree with Jeff. I had High LDL or the bad cholesterol. My doc suggested to take medicine which I refused. Something told me that these kinds of drugs are not safe so I wanted to try to change my diet and include exercise. This lead to me playing Tennis regularly. I can tell from my experience that diet and excercise certainly reduces the bad cholesterol and at the same time increases the good cholesterol as well which is HDL. However, having said this, I have to also admit that everything depends on age as well and whether someone is capable of being controlled and continue to do the diet and exercise. So, one has to decide for his / her own benefit.

      August 4, 2010 at 01:49 | Report abuse |
    • Entropy

      Why would I listen to you over my doctor?

      August 9, 2010 at 16:35 | Report abuse |
  3. Bill

    Ive read some recent information about LDLS and how some LDLS are small and dense and some are large and buoyant.
    The small dense types are the ones that cause cardio-vascular problems. Maybe one of the CNN medical staff can write an article about this.

    Also, a Vitamin E compound, Tocotrienol has been found to lower LDLS. I took it for two months and it did nothing for me yet emerging research shows that it works. Maybe some one could write and article about tocotrienols.

    August 3, 2010 at 17:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. xylindia morpheus

    high cholesterol or high blood pressure are commonly caused by low thyroid. The TSH test is NOT accurate. Take yr basal body temp. If it's below 97.8 probably u need thyroid. Natural thyroid is better. It has t3 and t4 in it. My cholesterol was 230 5 years ago. 140 one month ago. Not kidding.

    August 3, 2010 at 18:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Jim Purdy

    "Even without medication, you can affect your cholesterol levels with diet and exercise."

    Then why do we take so many dang statins? Could we improve our health with regular walking and with heart-healthy foods like walnuts, pecans, flaxseed, and wild salmon?

    August 3, 2010 at 20:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Thomas

      Because doctors are paid to peddle statins. And people refuse to stop eating the things that cause the problems. Meat, dairy, oils.

      August 4, 2010 at 11:16 | Report abuse |
    • Cbd Products

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      December 24, 2018 at 14:08 | Report abuse |
  6. Michele

    My cholesterol is 350 (yes, 350) without medication, and I am only 102 lbs., work out regularly and eat a very low-fat diet. With high-dose statins, I can get the number down to about 210. I was diagnosed after taking a blood test at a health fair on a whim when I was 23. I've been on statins ever since (20+ years now). I say, get tested as early as possible, so you know and can take action if required. Hopefully, early intervention has helped me, and I won't get the aortic calcification that nearly killed my father, who also has sky-high cholesterol.

    August 3, 2010 at 23:06 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dave

      Have you considered a low CARB diet? EVERY study shows it to be better though the mainstream press still reports it to be "as good as"...

      August 4, 2010 at 01:40 | Report abuse |
    • Michele

      No kind of "diet" has made any difference for me. My doctors have said I could eat nothing but lettuce and I would still have ultra high cholesterol. My liver produces an excess amount of it, just like my father's liver does and his mother's did. I think statins are designed for people like me with hereditary hyperlipidema. The drugs are overprescribed, at this point, but when your numbers are more than twice what they should be and diet changes (to an already healthy diet) don't help, you have to try something else, and for me it was medicine. I went off statins for a month once just to see... numbers shot back up from 210 to 350. So the statins do help me.

      August 4, 2010 at 13:50 | Report abuse |
  7. Franklin

    What people should be considering is a whole food diet without processed food. Read the book "Power Aging" and incorporate a regimen of cleansing, whole foods, excercise and supplement and watch your cholesterol level drop significantly without drugs.

    August 4, 2010 at 01:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Steve

    Genetic high cholesterol is a farce used as a scare tactic to make you pop pills. There is NO genetic code for high cholesterol. When it comes to cancer only 15% of people with a history of it in their family ever get it. People, stop putting your faith in doctors. Use your own head...you are not stupid. There is a reason doctors "practice" medicine.

    August 4, 2010 at 01:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • qball

      Steve, if you're right, then you just made my day. I'm going to research your assertions, but I'm already on board with you to a large extent. Statins are dangerous drugs, with alot of scary side effects. I'm willing to bet my life that a strict regimen of exercise, stress reduction and cholesterol lowering foods (like oatmeal, grape juice, green olives, albacore tuna, et cetera) in high doses will produce the same effects as cholesterol lowering drugs, and without any complications...

      August 4, 2010 at 03:01 | Report abuse |
  9. Rachel

    Genetic high cholesterol is not a farce, I was tested at 19 and had high cholesterol (approx 380-400) I spend a number of years using diet and exercise and it barely made a difference besides getting me into better shape, it took a high dose of meds to lower mine. My mother only found out about her cholesterol level in her thirties, it was too late she had her first heart attach at 35 and she had a quadural bypass before she was 40. My younger brother (an athlete) was diagnosed with high cholesterol at 12 (higher then mine). Now my children have been tested and my 4 yr old (who is not overweight) has a cholesterol level of 480.
    For someone who has high cholesterol that is only a bit higher then normal yes diet and exercise can lower, but when it's genetic it's not caused by your diet therefor diet/exercise alone can not change it. It's very fusterating to hear people talk like this when I have my 4 yr old on a diet, and it barely makes a change. She will be on meds as soon as she can be.

    August 4, 2010 at 08:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Thomas


      August 4, 2010 at 11:18 | Report abuse |
    • Thomas


      August 4, 2010 at 11:19 | Report abuse |
    • Pat

      As a health care professional, I agree with you. Genetic high cholesterol does NOT respond to zero fat diets or exercise. It is a genetic liver bile congestive disorder. In Chinese oriental medicine, it is the sour/acid foods that cause bile congestion in some people genetically- sour fruits, sour juices, yogurt, fermented foods, coffee, etc., not dietary fat or cholesterol foods. Lately, the market has made this difficult for people – as everything has gone sugar free- making the products and especially the juicies too acidic. Sugar is chemically a base and raises ph level decreasing acidity. Unsweetened canned fruits and juicies contibute to bile congestion. Americans are incredibly misled. Sugary foods are less acidic!

      February 12, 2012 at 15:30 | Report abuse |
  10. twila rogan

    Hi Roseanne,it may interest you .

    August 4, 2010 at 08:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Kita

    I was recently told my total cholesterol was 235 with LDLs being 171. They mentioned medicine and I said no way...test me again in 3 months!

    I've begun a juice fast (check with your doctor before trying this) -- I've been juicing combos of apples, oranges, carrots, pears, mangos, celery, spinach, broccoli, kale, parsley, zucchini, and cucumbers.

    I've also increased my exercise regime and plain to make whole grain food like Cheerios part of my diet.

    My problem is I was eating all the wrong foods (fried, processed etc) and none of the right ones!

    I'm 31 so I'm glad I am aware of the problem so I can do something about it.

    Fortunately for me, I don't believe it is genetic. But I would always recommend lifestyle changes over meds where applicable. But I'm not a doctor, so take it for what its worth.

    August 4, 2010 at 09:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. C Wood

    My cholesterol is 240-250 I can eat Big Macs all day or salads it will stay mid 200's. My doctor tried to put me on drugs to lower it and I found an extremely bad side effect. I get angry when my cholesterol is lowered. I am usually a very fun loving person and people couldn't believe the change that came over me. I would get angry over every little thing. When I stopped taking the medicine my temper went away. When my doctor didn't believe the medication was the cause, I went back on it to see. Within a week my anger and temper were back. Whether it was the actual medication or the lower cholesterol I do not know, but I will never try to lower my cholesterol again.

    August 4, 2010 at 09:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Clyde Dean

    Diet also plays a major role in fighting off obesity which is why it is important to be aware of one’s eating habits. The perfect diet for high cholesterol would be to have greater intake of fruits, legumes, vegetables and whole grains. These food groups are an excellent way to combat heart disease. In addition, one may also increase their fiber intake in order to help lower bad LDL cholesterol.

    October 6, 2010 at 09:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Dacha Choubina

    How can we fight high cholesterol in the first place? A natural and healthy diet is the best way to stay fit... There are supplements that synthesize the main...fish oil

    January 30, 2012 at 06:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Dong Skreen

    Cholesterol is a waxy substance that's found in the fats (lipids) in your blood. While your body needs cholesterol to continue building healthy cells, having high cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease.;'.;

    Go look at our new internet page as well http://www.healthmedicinebook.comuq

    June 22, 2013 at 21:08 | Report abuse | Reply
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