Blood test helps predict metabolic syndrome: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A new blood test found that people with high levels of a type of damaged cholesterol were much more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, putting them at higher risk of heart disease and diabetes, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday

The test, developed by researchers in Belgium, measures subtle damage to low-density lipoprotein, the so-called “bad” cholesterol, as an early warning sign of disease.

Identifying it as soon as possible could lead to people making lifestyle changes that might prevent further damage.

“Cholesterol is a fat. What the body does to transport cholesterol around is to encase it into a little particle that has protein on the outside, so that it is soluble,” said David Jacobs of the University of Minnesota, whose study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

But, Jacobs said, when this casing becomes oxidized, a kind of damage caused by charged particles known as free radicals, it can become embedded in arteries and start clogging them.

“That is the cause of coronary heart disease,” said Jacobs, whose study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Jacobs and colleagues found that a test that measures levels of damaged LDL was a strong predictor of metabolic syndrome, a group of related disorders such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and abnormal blood glucose.

They studied 1,889 people who had been in a long-running study of cardiovascular risks. People were aged 18 to 30 when they started the study in 1985-1986. The team tested them 15 years later when they were 33-45 and again 20 years after the study started.


People who had high concentrations of damaged or oxidized LDL 15 years into the study were 3.5 times more likely to develop metabolic syndrome at the 20-year mark compared with people with the lowest concentrations of this type of LDL.

“We are looking in the middle of life, in early middle age, and showing that the process is already underway. In that sense, it becomes an early detection method,” Jacobs said in a telephone interview.

He said several groups have developed tests to measure oxidized LDL. His team used a monoclonal antibody test, deploying targeted immune-system proteins to find LDL that has slight damage in its protein casing.

“If the lipoprotein particles are severely damaged or they have oxidation all over them ... they are going to be chewed up by the body and excreted,” Jacobs explained.

“If they are minimally oxidized, that is the dangerous part. They are slipping under the radar that the body is looking for. These go into the arterial wall,” he said.

The test was invented by Paul Holvoet of Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven, Belgium, one of the study’s authors.

Jacobs said the study supports the notion that underlying disease is taking place years before it manifests itself in symptoms.

He said the researchers plan to examine the patients again at the 25-year mark to see who developed disease and determine how lifestyle and other factors might have influenced this process.

A diet rich in antioxidants, found in fruits, vegetables and some nuts, can help protect cells from damage by free radicals.

Editing by Maggie Fox and Xavier Briand