Retired NFL players have helped researchers at Baylor College of Medicine determine that a specialized cholesterol test may predict carotid plaques better in those with metabolic syndrome. The findings were presented at the American College of Cardiology 60th Annual Scientific Session & Expo and Innovation in Intervention: i2 Summit 2011 in New Orleans.

"We found that for most retired NFL players, a traditional fasting cholesterol test is a good way to detect carotid plaques, which are related to cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Salim S. Virani, assistant professor of medicine at BCM and a staff cardiologist at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center. "However, for those diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, a more specialized test may be needed."

Traditional vs. specialized test

Researchers were comparing traditional cholesterol tests - which measure total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides - with a specialized test that measures levels such as the number of low density lipoprotein particles.

One of the reasons retired NFL players were used is because of their size.

Ideal group to study

"They have a higher risk of heart disease based on their size, especially those who played in the linemen positions during their professional careers. Many also suffer from metabolic syndrome, so they are an ideal group to study," said Virani. "While the cholesterol test can predict carotid plaques, more studies are needed to understand if this more specialized test will help predict cardiovascular outcomes."

Others who contributed to the study include: Drs. Vijay Nambi and Christie M. Ballantyne, both with BCM; Andrew E. Lincoln, Reginald E. Dunn, and Dr. Andrew M. Tucker, all with the Sports Medicine Research Center, Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore; Dr. Khurram Nasir with the Yale University School of Medicine; Dr. Robert A. Vogel with the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore; and Dr. Arthur J. Roberts with the Living Heart Foundation in New Jersey.

This work was supported by a grant from the NFL Charities and the Houston VA Health Services Research & Development Center of Excellence. Virani is supported by a Department of Veteran Affairs Health Services Research and Development Services Career Development Award. LipoScience Inc (Raleigh, NC) performed the specialized lipid test.