Triglyceride measurements no help in predicting heart disease in men, study finds

By Kevin Boyd

Measuring the levels of triglyceride fats in the blood does not aid in the
prediction of heart disease in men, according to new research from the San
Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) and the University of
California, San Francisco. 

The study, published in the July 10 Archives of Internal Medicine, refutes
earlier research which suggested that if patients had a high-risk cholesterol
profile, high triglyceride levels signified an even greater risk of heart
disease. “We found that in men there was no clear advantage to knowing
triglyceride levels in addition to cholesterol levels and other risk factors,”
said Andrew Avins, MD, MPH, UCSF assistant professor of general internal
medicine and epidemiology. 

Cholesterol is a useful fat molecule in the body, but most Americans eat too
much of the foods that contain it.  High levels of LDL cholesterol and low
levels of HDL cholesterol increase a person’s risk of heart disease. 
Researchers have debated whether high levels of triglycerides, the most common
form of fat in the body, might also be a warning sign.

To answer this question, Avins and his colleague, John Neuhaus, PhD, UCSF
professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, re-analysed data from three other
heart disease studies in which researchers had measured levels of cholesterol
and triglycerides.  The studies had enrolled between 1,900 and 6,300 men; one
study also had enrolled 3,500 women.  After accounting for known risk factors
for heart disease, such as age, cigarette smoking, physical activity,
cholesterol levels and others, the researchers assessed whether triglyceride
levels improved their ability to predict risk of heart attack and death from
heart disease. 

While triglyceride levels were clearly not useful for measuring risk in men,
the results for women were more confusing, said Avins, who is also a physician
in general internal medicine at the San Francisco VA Medical Center.  Among
women in the study who had high cholesterol, triglycerides were a good
predictor of their risk of heart attack and death.  But Avins said this result
might be inaccurate, because there were only 55 women in this high risk group. 
“Given the small numbers, I would be very reluctant to make any sort of
definitive conclusion about women.  Other researchers should look for this
effect in different data sets to confirm or refute these findings,” he said.

This research was supported by a grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood
Institute, which was managed by Northern California Institute for Research and
Education (NCIRE); and by the US Department of Veterans Affairs.