Research published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that a mutation in a gene responsible for the production of a little known type of cholesterol, Lp(a). This type of cholesterol has been correlated with causing aortic stenosis, a condition which currently affects 1.5 million Americans, according to the American Heart Association.
Aortic Stenosis is caused by narrowing of the primary valve that blood flows through from the heart to the rest of the body. Symptoms of the disease culminate in fainting, heart attacks and can result in death unless surgical intervention is performed. Recently Barbra Walters underwent surgery to which replaced one of her aortic valves and correct her aortic stenosis. She discovered of her condition after a routine echocardiogram revealed narrowing of the valves in her aorta.
Researchers from McGill University, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and other institutions found that people with a mutation in the LPA gene which controls production of a type of cholesterol called Lp(a) had a 60% greater risk of developing calcifications and hardening in their aortic valve.
Currently , it is standard procedure on blood tests to test for the levels of HDL , "good cholesterol and LDL, "Bad Cholesterol", yet it is not standard practice to test for Lp(a) levels. Doctors suggested that testing should be performed in high risk patients, those that had family histories of heart disease and stenosis.
Many people think that lifestyle change can affect cholesterol levels, but it is not always a viable option. Changing diet and taking cholesterol lowering medications are an option for many, but fail to produce health gains in some.
Although Niacin, or vitamin B3, is known to lower levels of Lp(a) slightly, there is no clinical evidence that it's health benefits would affect heart disease progression or prevention.
Dr. Stephen Kopecky of the Mayo Clinic agreed. He said that when it comes to preventing heart disease, tried-and-true advice still applies. "Too often, Americans may be looking for a quick fix that will allow us to trade in our bodies for new ones after 55 years or so," he said. "But there is still no substitute for trying to prevent all types of heart disease through improvements in our diet and exercise."
Hopefully this research will allow people with a family history of heart disease to find out if their genes may be fighting against them when it comes to the battle to control cholesterol.