Think you’re too young to worry about cholesterol? Think again. Many people could drastically reduce their future risk of heart disease by lowering their cholesterol levels from as early as their 20s. That’s the bottom line of a study showing that people born with low cholesterol are protected from heart problems. High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), a molecule that transports cholesterol in the blood, are strongly associated with heart disease. Doctors already know that reducing LDL with exercise or drugs can reduce a person’s risk of heart attack. But it has been harder to find out whether heart health could be improved further by lowering LDL from a young age.
Helen Hobbs at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, and her colleagues saw an opportunity to find out. Last year, they discovered that a fraction of the population are genetically programmed to have low LDL levels, because they carry particular versions of a gene called PCSK9 that help the liver to eliminate LDL cholesterol.