A simple blood test may identify people who have an increased risk ofdying from cardiovascular disease, researchers report in Circulation:Journal of the American Heart Association.
The test measures gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) -- an enzymeproduced primarily by the liver and catalyzes glutathione, the mainantioxidant in the body. The enzyme is elevated in some forms of liverdisease, so physicians use GGT levels to detect liver damage andalcohol abuse.
In analyzing data from a long-term study involving more than 160,000Austrian adults, the researchers found that the higher a person's bloodlevel of GGT, the greater the risk of cardiovascular death. The levelsare given in units per liter (U/l) of blood. Normal low is less than 9U/l for women and less than 14 U/l for men. A moderately high value forGGT is 18 U/I for women and 28 U/I for men. High levels (twofoldelevated) are more than 36 U/I for women and 56 U/I for men.
"People with high GGT had more than a 1.5-fold risk of dying fromcardiovascular diseases in comparison to people with normal low levelsof GGT," said senior author Hanno Ulmer, Ph.D. "For people under 60years of age, this risk is even higher, amounting to more thantwo-fold."Over the past decade, some small studies have suggested a link betweenhigh GGT and cardiovascular disease," said Ulmer, associate professorof medical statistics at the Innsbruck Medical University in Austria.
Several years ago, Italian researchers reported that elevated GGT couldindicate early atherosclerosis. Ulmer and his colleagues investigatedthe researchers' findings. They examined medical data collected from1985-2001 from 163,944 (98.4 percent) of the then-enrolled volunteersin the Vorarlberg Health Monitoring and Promotion Program. This is anongoing study in Austria's westernmost province that examines riskfactors for chronic diseases.
The participants included 74,830 men and 89,114 women, age 19 or olderwhen they entered the study, and had been followed for an average of 11to 12 years.
After controlling for known cardiovascular risk factors, the team foundthat GGT was an independent predictor of fatal heart disease or stroke.
Among the study's other key findings:
Ulmer cited two mechanisms that might explain why GGT can indicatecardiovascular disease. The first, originally proposed by the Italianresearchers, is that high GGT shows the presence of atherosclerosis.The second is that it's related to the ill effects of heavy drinking onblood vessels.
"Beyond its role as an indicator of liver function, GGT is very likelyto predict cardiovascular disease," Ulmer said. "Since GGT iscorrelated with established risk factors, the known ways of preventingthe disease might also be effective in lowering GGT levels."Because the study participants were overwhelmingly white Austrians, theteam could not say whether their findings hold true for other racialand ethnic groups.
"Both epidemiologic and experimental studies should be performed toconfirm these findings," Ulmer said. "GGT should be included as a majorparameter in future cardiovascular intervention studies."
In an accompanying editorial, Michele Emdin, M.D., of thecardiovascular medicine department at the National Research Council inPisa, Italy, wrote that elevated GGT might help identify people with"the most risky combination for the vulnerable plaque, and the bestmedical strategies for the stabilization of lesions, rather thanpercutaneous or surgical."
Co-authors are Elfriede Ruttmann, M.D.; Larry J. Brant, Ph.D.; HansConcin, M.D.; Gunter Diem, M.D.; and Kilian Rapp, M.D. Co-authors ofthe editorial are Alfonso Pompella, M.D., Ph.D., and Aldo Paolicchi,M.D., Ph.D.
Statements and conclusions of study authors that are published in theAmerican Heart Association scientific journals are solely those of thestudy authors and do not necessarily reflect association policy orposition. The American Heart Association makes no representation orwarranty as to their accuracy or reliability.
Materials provided by American Heart Association. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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