High Cholesterol Raises Kidney Risks

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July 21, 2003 -- Keeping cholesterol levels under control may not only reduce the risk of heart disease, but it may also keep kidney disease at bay.

A new study shows that men with high total cholesterol and those with low levels of the "good" HDL cholesterol were more than twice as likely to develop kidney problems as those with normal cholesterol levels. It's the first large-scale study to link high cholesterol levels and kidney disease in otherwise healthy men.

The results suggest that keeping cholesterol levels in check or lowering them may be one way to prevent kidney disease and kidney failure. Researchers say finding new ways to reduce the risk of kidney failure is important because few treatments are available to prevent and stop the progression of conditions that lead to kidney failure. The prevalence of kidney failure in the U.S. has doubled in the last decade.

Other known risk factors for developing kidney disease include diabetes and high blood pressure.

Cholesterol and the Kidneys

The study, which appears in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, followed 4,483 apparently healthy men in the Physicians' Health Study for 14 years. At the start of the study, all of the men had normal kidney function based on their levels of creatinine, a protein that's used to measure how well the kidneys are working.

Researchers found that men who had high total cholesterol levels and low levels of "good" HDL cholesterol at the start of the study were much more likely to have increased creatinine levels at the end, which indicates kidney problems and can lead to kidney failure. These men were also more likely to have decreased glomerular filtration rates (GFR), another measure of the kidney's filtering ability and function.

"Our study strongly suggests that there is a correlation between abnormal cholesterol levels and the development of kidney disease in healthy men," says researcher Tobias Kurth, MD, ScD, of Brigham and Women's Hospital, in a news release.

"Men with high cholesterol, particularly those with high non-HDL cholesterol and decreased HDL cholesterol were assessed as being twice as likely to encounter problems with their kidneys."

Another Reason to Watch Cholesterol

Researchers say the study suggests that preventing kidney disease may be another benefit of keeping cholesterol levels under control in addition to lowering the risk of heart disease.

In addition, researchers say identifying and treating new risk factors for kidney disease, such as high cholesterol, may play an important role in fighting kidney disease in the future.

"We hope this study becomes the basis for future research that will look into whether [cholesterol-lowering] statins can be used preventatively in a target population to promote good kidney health and possibly prevent them from becoming diseased," says Kurth.

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SOURCES: Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, vol. 14, 2003. News release, Brigham and Women's Hospital.
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