Higher cholesterol earlier in adulthood boosts chances of heart disease

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If you're in your 30s or 40s, you may think you're too young to worry about your cholesterol. But a huge new study finds even mildly high cholesterol boosts your chances of heart disease later.

Anthony Cook does many things right for his heart. He doesn't smoke and he's physically active as a security sergeant at Saint Luke's Hospital and a basketball referee.

"I want to be healthy. I have kids and I want to be around a long time for them," said Cook.

But one thing is working against Cook at age 48. He's had slightly high cholesterol since his early 40s. A long-term study finds that for every decade before age 55 that someone has even slightly high cholesterol, the risk of heart disease after 55 jumps by 40 percent.

A heart specialist at Saint Luke's says it shows that younger adults need to get their cholesterol checked and takes steps to control it.

"The message is it's never too early to take that seriously. I think patients and doctors have a tendency to say you're young and healthy. This is something we'll watch," said Dr. Bethany Austin.

The research raises the question of whether more young adults should be on statins, cholesterol-lowering medicine. Dr. Austin says more research is needed of the benefits and risks of those drugs on a younger population.

"Before committing someone to potentially lifelong treatment with medication, we want to make sure that's the right thing to do," said Dr. Austin.

Exercise, watching your weight and diet are other ways to help your cholesterol levels.

"Probably when my doctor hears this, he's gonna put me on that medication," said Cook.

And that's okay with him in trying to prevent heart disease.

The new findings come from the Framingham Heart Study, one of the largest and longest heart research projects. The findings are published in the journal Circulation.