One in five people appear to be born with a blood protein that increases the risk of heart attack and stroke in later life.
Infants born with the protein — called apo C-I enriched HDL — tend to have a low birth weight and a younger gestational age. Low birth weight is associated with heart disease risk factors and death in adulthood, write the researchers.
"Elevated apo C-I, if it persists throughout childhood into adulthood, may be a novel risk factor for cardiovascular disease," write Johns Hopkins researcher Peter O. Kwiterovich Jr., MD, and colleagues.
The findings appear in the April 20 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
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Kwiterovich's team analyzed cord blood and other data from 163 infants — male and female, white and black — born from January to September 2000. In the blood of 19% of the kids they found high levels of "good" HDL cholesterol molecules enriched with apo C-I.
These newborns tended to have a lower average birth weight (5.9 pounds) than newborns with lower amounts of the protein (7.3 pounds). They were also born, on average, three weeks earlier.
Laboratory studies indicate that apo C-I alters various steps in cholesterol metabolism and promotes the destruction of blood vessel walls.
"If such an effect occurs [in people], this might promote the rupture of an unstable plaque, leading to [heart attack]," Kwiterovich and colleagues write.
The damaging effects of apo C-I might not begin until a child reaches the age of 2 years. At that time, the blood protein might cause increased blood-fat levels.
"Thus, in children older than 2 years and in adults who have elevated apo C-I levels, a low-fat diet may be indicated," Kwiterovich and colleagues suggest.
SOURCES: Kwiterovich, P.O. The Journal of the American Medical Association, April 20, 2005; vol 293: pp 1891-1899.