Battling Poor Cholesterol Levels May Also Fight Hypertension

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HERE'S YET ANOTHER REASON to control your cholesterol: Harvard researchers have linked high levels of blood cholesterol to an increased risk of developing high blood pressure. The research also found an association between high HDL ("good" cholesterol) levels and significantly lower risk for hypertension.

"Our findings suggest we may have a new means of preventing hypertension, a devastating public health issue in this country," researcher Howard D. Sesso, DSc, MPH, an associate epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital, told Reuters news service.

The study, published in Hypertension, looked at data on 3,110 men from the long-running Physicians' Health Study. About a third of the men, 1,019, developed hypertension over an average follow-up time of 14 years.

Although the latest study focused only on men, another recent study of 16,130 women, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, found similar results.

The researchers discovered that the men with the highest total cholesterol had a 23% greater risk of developing hypertension later in life than those with the lowest levels. Those with highest ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol were 54% more likely to later suffer high blood pressure.

Lead author Ruben O. Halperin, MD, MPH, wrote that poor cholesterol levels "appear to predate the onset of hypertension by years."

On the other hand, men with the highest levels of "good" HDL cholesterol had a 32% lower risk of developing hypertension than the group with the lowest HDL.

Dr. Halperin believes that measuring cholesterol levels in men could help determine whether they might be at risk for developing hypertension. The study "lends support to the theory that hypertension represents an early manifestation of the atherosclerotic process," he added. It may even be that controlling cholesterol by means of diet and medication such as statins could have an added benefit in helping to keep blood pressure from reaching dangerous levels.

TO LEARN MORE: Hypertension, January 2006; free abstract at . Archives of Internal Medicine, Nov. 14, 2005; tree abstract at . American Heart Association .

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