Some people are genetically programmed to have higher blood cholesterol levels than others, but that need not be a death sentence.
University of Utah geneticists traced the lineage of four families with a gene for high cholesterol back to four pioneer men born before 1880. They proved that those men also must have carried the high-cholesterol gene.
The pioneer men lived to be 62, 68, 72 and 81 years old. Most of their modern-day decendants, however, had clinically diagnosed heart disease by age 45, and many died at a younger age.
"The reason for the increased survival of these individuals compared with more recent generations is not known," wrote Dr. Roger R. Williams and several colleagues in the Jan. 10 Journal of the American Medical Association. "Perhaps the men living in earlier generations experienced a healthier profile of environmental and life-style risk factors for coronary disease" -- that is, more exercise, less fat in the diet.
The pioneer men were farmers, carpenters and brick masons.
High cholesterol levels are believed to cause clogging of the arteries that feed the heart, leading to heart attacks.
With careful attention to diet, one of the current-generation men reduced his blood cholesterol level from 426 to the relatively healthy 246.