Early Diet Modification May be Necessary to Contain Heart Disease

Author:  Neil Majithia
Institution:  Virginia Commonwealth University
Date:  October 2008

To effectively combat the effects of heart disease, researchers from University of San Diego School of Medicine recommend regulating cholesterol levels as early as childhood. The team's review study, which was published in the journal Circulation on August 5, 2008, criticizes current approaches to cholesterol reduction, calling them passive and inadequate.

The wealth of evidence linking lower cholesterol levels to better heart health, has led the team to recommend a diet low in both cholesterol and saturated fats from childhood. The report also notes that such a diet could be incorporated during infancy without any adverse effects to a baby's development.

"Studies show that fatty streak lesions in the arteries that are a precursor to atherosclerosis and heart disease begin in childhood, and advanced lesions are not uncommon by age 30. Why not nip things in the bud?" said Dr. Daniel Steinberg, physician-scientist at UC-San Diego and lead investigator of the study.

The group does cite progress under current treatment methodology due to the effectiveness of drugs like statins, which lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels by promoting their clearance from the bloodstream where they can cause damage to vasculature. Patients treated with statins are 30% less likely to experience death or disability from heart disease related issues. However, this success is tempered by the fact that 70% of the patients on statins still experience cardiac events while on medication, suggesting that existing treatment options are far from panaceas.

"Our review of the literature convinces us that more aggressive and earlier intervention will probably prevent considerably more than 30% of coronary heart disease," said Steinberg." He encourages both physicians and patients to approach heart disease as they would cancer or diabetes, which are routinely treated as early as possible.

While doctors in America have been reluctant to put patients on restrictive diets early in life, a study of Japanese men in the 1950s illustrated the benefits of making a low cholesterol diet part of one's permanent lifestyle. Only 10% of Japanese men studied died as a result of heart disease, while such success rate was lost in subjects who immigrated to the US and adopted a less healthy, Western diet.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) has already declared war on diabetes and obesity, and has emphasized the importance of education and behavior modification in containing these diseases. The UCSD research team proposes a war be waged on heart disease using similar tactics,and a sense of urgency.

Written by Neil Majithia

Edited by Falishia Sloan

Published by Hoi See Tsao