Adults should have their cholesterol levels checked from as young as 25, researchers have suggested.
New research has revealed it could be possible to use the cholesterol readings to calculate the lifetime risk of heart disease and stroke.
The study, published in The Lancet, analysed 400,000 people over four decades and looked at the long-term health risks of having too much “bad” cholesterol.
Scientists found knowing about having high levels of “bad” cholesterol at a younger age and therefore taking preventative measures to lower it could cut the risk of heart disease by up to three quarters.
The team suggests screening adults for their cholesterol levels in their mid-20s and 30s would enable them to “do something against the risk”.
What is cholesterol?
According to the British Heart Foundation cholesterol is a fatty substance found in your blood, which is produced naturally in the liver.
“Everyone has cholesterol,” the site reads. “We need it to stay healthy because every cell in our body uses it. Some of this cholesterol comes from the food we eat.”
But there are two types of cholesterol.
High-density lipoproteins or HDL or “good” cholesterol. This gets rid of the ‘bad’ cholesterol from your blood and takes cholesterol that you don’t need back to the liver. The liver breaks it down so it can be passed out of your body.
Non-high-density lipoproteins or non-HDL or “bad” cholesterol. Too much of this type of cholesterol can build up inside the walls of the blood vessels, clogging them and causing narrowing of the arteries which increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
What did the research find?
The research revealed that treating four men in the under-45 age group to reduce “bad cholesterol” could prevent one of them having a heart attack or stroke in their lifetime.
In women, such treatment could protect one in eight.
The authors believe it is important to know your “bad” cholesterol level from young adulthood as it could provide an opportunity to lower the level through exercise, a healthier diet, or by taking statins.
“We need to start it early,” study co-author Professor Stefan Blankenberg, from the University Heart Center, Germany, told Guardian.
“We should at least put into the guidelines that non-HDL cholesterol determination should be an obligation. At a very young age – 25 to 30. You need to know it.
“In German schools we have large anti-smoking programmes. We persuade populations not to smoke. We have no programme to let people know about cholesterol.
“The first thing I would do is establish a cholesterol knowledge programme,” he added.
How to lower “bad” cholesterol
While an active lifestyle and healthy diet can reduce cholesterol, in some cases people are prescribed statins to help reduce cholesterol.
According to the British Heart Foundation statins are a type of medication used to lower the level of cholesterol in the blood and protect the insides of the artery walls.
Commenting on the findings British Heart Foundation medical director Prof Sir Nilesh Samani told BBC: “This large study again emphasises the importance of cholesterol as a major risk factor for heart attacks and stroke.
“It also shows that for some people, taking measures at a much earlier stage to lower cholesterol, for example by taking statins, may have a substantial benefit in reducing their lifelong risk from these diseases.”
Hamish Grierson, co-founder and CEO at Thriva, the proactive health company told Yahoo UK that high cholesterol is something that can affect you at any age.
“While current guidelines suggest that most people only need to have their cholesterol tested once they are over 40, this recent news tells us something our data has been showing for years.
“Everyone should in fact be paying closer attention. Thriva test results from this year show that eight out of ten 25-35 year olds had cholesterol out of the recommended range when tested.”
But Grierson says that in most cases people are able to lower their cholesterol levels with a few simple changes to their daily lifestyle and diet.
“You should avoid foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats, such as fast and fried foods,” he says. “You should also aim to eat more eat high-fibre foods, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and eat lean sources of protein, like chicken, fish, and legumes.”