Blood Fats Don't Just Target the Heart

Mild to moderate increases in blood fats increased risk of pancreatitis, University of Copenhagen research found.

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There's been plenty of information out there about blood fats and heart disease, but it turns out there's concern that's been hiding in the shadows.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen found that even mild increases in blood fat levels increase the risk of developing pancreatitis.

Scientists have long thought that risk factors for pancreatitis included gallstones, high alcohol intake and very high concentrations of fat in the blood.

The new study, according to lead author Børge Nordestgaard, MD, DMSc, indicated doctors should pay closer attention to even mild elevations in blood fats.

"It's far more serious than we previously believed it to be,” Dr. Nordestgaard said in a press release. “Risk factors should therefore include a mild to moderate increase in blood fats and if a patient suddenly suffers severe stomach pains, which is a symptom related to acute pancreatitis, we should measure the patient's blood fats.”

Dr. Nordestgaard is chief physician in clinical biochemistry at Copenhagen University Hospital and a professor in genetic epidemiology at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

The pancreas is a small organ located near the liver which is probably best-known for producing insulin--the hormone that regulates blood sugar. Pancreatitis is an inflammatory process that can cause severe pain and even damage the pancreatic tissue.

Dr. Nordestgaard and his colleagues studied more than 116,000 Danish adults. Data on the study participants included measurements of various blood fats (lipids) such as cholesterol and triglycerides. Previously, a triglyceride level above 10 mmol per liter was considered high risk for pancreatitis.

The researchers found that in the 434 patients who actually developed pancreatitis, even triglyceride levels of two to 10 mmol per liter correlated with increased risk of the disease.

When the researchers compared patients in the same study who had a heart attack to those who developed pancreatitis, they found high triglyceride levels meant a higher risk of pancreatitis than a heart attack.

"Until now, medical science has focused primarily on high blood cholesterol, but our study shows that we should also pay attention to more common fats. Mild to moderate levels of blood fats cause a lot more diseases than we have hitherto been aware of and we need much more research on this area," Dr. Nordestgaard said in the press release.

The study was published in the Nov. issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

Information on study funding and conflict of interest was not available.

Read more about how good the good cholesterol actually is.

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