In March 2012, a new study reported that both exercise and non-high-density-lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol are important predictors of subclinical atherosclerosis. Calcifications in the coronary arteries are an early sign of coronary heart disease. Calcium deposits in the arteries in the development of atherosclerotic plaques cause narrowing of the blood vessels to the heart and may rupture and form a blood clot, which can impede blood flow to the heart.
The study evaluated 1,637 healthy males enrolled in the Prospective Army Coronary Calcium Project with an average age of 42.8 years and no history of coronary artery disease. The subjects completed questionnaires to assess diet and physical exercise. The researchers measured fasting serum lipids, including HDL cholesterol, low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, triglycerides and non-HDL cholesterol, which is a calculation of total cholesterol minus HDL cholesterol. The study authors also measured coronary artery calcium to determine the presence of subclinical atherosclerosis.
The researchers found that coronary artery calcium was present in 22.4 percent of the subjects. The study authors demonstrated that the average LDL cholesterol was 128 mg/dL, HDL cholesterol was 50 mg/dL, triglycerides were 130 mg/dL and non-HDL cholesterol was 154 mg/dL. The subjects with coronary artery calcium showed significantly greater levels of LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, non-HDL cholesterol and less habitual physical activity compared to the men without coronary calcium deposits. The data also showed a trend correlating prevalent coronary artery calcium with greater amounts of dietary fat intake and lower HDL cholesterol.
After adjusting the data for confounding factors, only non-HDL cholesterol and age remained independently associated with the presence of coronary artery calcium and only exercise was associated with the absence of coronary artery calcium.
The study authors stated, “Non-HDL cholesterol and exercise are independently predictive of the presence of subclinical coronary artery calcium among healthy lower-risk middle-aged men.”
Simprini LA, et al. J Clin Lipidol. 2012;2:174-9.