CHICAGO (Reuters) - For people keeping track of their blood fats, triglycerides may be the new lipid to watch, researchers said on Tuesday.
A study earlier this week found that the percentage of U.S. adults with high triglycerides had doubled over the past three decades, likely driven by climbing obesity rates.
In another study, the largest yet, Danish researchers reported on Tuesday that a blood test that does not require fasting showed a strong link between high triglyceride levels and the risk of stroke caused by a blood clot.
Taken together, the studies suggest the need for better management of triglycerides, a blood fat that typically has played second fiddle to low-density lipoprotein or LDL, known as the "bad" cholesterol because of its role in causing heart attacks and strokes.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins help reduce LDL, but they often do not address high triglycerides, a blood fat derived from the fats people eat and fats in the body. Triglycerides are an independent risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
Triglycerides and other lipids are typically measured after an eight- to 12-hour fast.
In the Danish study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Borge Nordestgaard of Copenhagen University Hospital studied levels of nonfasting triglycerides to see how well they could predict stroke risk.
The study followed nearly 14,000 people in Copenhagen for 31 years and found a clear correlation between higher levels of triglycerides and stroke.
For example, a man 55 or older with the highest triglyceride levels -- above 443 milligrams per deciliter -- has a 17 percent risk of a stroke in 10 years.
That compared with about a 3 percent risk for men in the lowest triglyceride group -- 89 milligrams per deciliter.
"Nonfasting triglycerides may be even better than fasting at predicting risk," Nordestgaard said in a telephone interview.
He said the nonfasting tests were far more convenient for patients, a factor that may lead more people to get tested.
A U.S. study presented earlier this week at a meeting of the American Heart Association in New Orleans found triglyceride levels were on the rise.
The 30-year study of a large government health survey found that while LDL levels had fallen, the percentage of adults with high triglyceride levels had doubled.
"As the LDL story gets solved by the use of statins. triglycerides are emerging as the new important lipid risk factor," Dr. Jerome Cohen of St. Louis University School of Medicine in Missouri, who worked on the study, said in a telephone interview.
He said the study suggested the dramatic increase in the number of obese Americans may help explain the spike.
Dr. Irene Katzan of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, who was not involved in either study, said the studies and others like them reflected a growing focus on controlling triglycerides, which have been "one of these poor sisters of the lipid world."
"It's finally going to get its due attention," she said.
Editing by Maggie Fox and Peter Cooney