Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Young...and Dying from Atherosclerosis

A study published today in the Journal [PDF] of the American College of Cardiology paints a grim picture of young adults living in the United States - even when they appear healthy, too many already have artery damage - atherosclerosis.

The researchers, including lead author Wendy S. Tzou, M.D., studied 507 young adults (20 to 38 years old) who were participants in the Bogalusa Heart Study, which is a long-running heart health study following healthy white and African-American children and adults in Bogalusa, Alabama.

Of the 507 subjects followed:
  • 67 had Metabolic Syndrome [MetS] (13%) as defined by the National Cholesterol Education Program [MetS-NCEP]
  • 65 had Metabolic Syndrome (13%) as defined by the World Health Organization [MetS-WHO]
  • Carotid intima-media thickness [CIMT] was higher in those with MetS-NCEP than those without MetS-NCEP
  • CIMT was also higher in those with MetS-WHO than those without MetS-WHO
  • Composite CIMT increased with the number of MetS components present
  • Both MetS-NCEP and MetS-WHO predicted composite CIMT greater than or equal to the 75th percentile

OK, so what does that all mean?

Well, it means that in young adults, with an average age of just 32 years, Metabolic Syndrome is already present in 13% of those followed when investigators used either the NCEP guideline or the WHO guideline for diagnosing Metabolic Syndrome. For those individuals the incidence of CIMT was greater than those without Metabolic Syndrome and the composite CIMT was already into what is considered "at high risk" category for cardiovascular disease.

Imagine being just 32-years old and you're already at high risk even though you appear to be healthy!

"What was surprising is how the constellation of abnormalities in patients with metabolic syndrome worked together to create a significant degree of subclinical atherosclerosis in individuals so young. They were only 32 years old on average, but if they had the metabolic syndrome, they were more likely to have thickening of the carotid walls expected in subjects who were much older - indicating that their arteries were "aging" more quickly. This provides a powerful message that maintaining healthy habits should be a lifelong venture. It also shows that risk factor assessment and modification, if needed, should begin much earlier than in middle age," said James H. Stein, M.D., F.A.C.C., at the University of Wisconsin Medical School in Madison.

Quite frankly, I'm not surprised given the fact that the Standard American Diet is so poor. If you recall, just a few days ago I wrote about Death by Inflammation. Among the short-list of "problems" created by low-level, chronic inflammation is atherosclerosis. Barring physical injury or infection - which naturally stimulate inflammation as a protective mechanism - the major causes of inflammation, the chronic low-level inflammation that is insidious, are from our diet coupled with lack of sleep and too much stress.

No matter what your chronological age is, the age your body thinks it is internally is affected by how you eat, sleep and relax. As this study shows, apparently healthy young adults already have the makings of heart disease...do you?

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