High GGT Enzyme May Be Indicator Of Cardiovascular Disease Death Risk

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A simple blood test may identify people who have an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, researchers report in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.
The test measures gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) – an enzyme produced primarily by the liver and catalyzes glutathione, the main antioxidant in the body. The enzyme is elevated in some forms of liver disease, so physicians use GGT levels to detect liver damage and alcohol abuse.
In analyzing data from a long-term study involving more than 160,000 Austrian adults, the researchers found that the higher a person’s blood level of GGT, the greater the risk of cardiovascular death. The levels are given in units per liter (U/l) of blood. Normal low is less than 9 U/l for women and less than 14 U/l for men. A moderately high value for GGT is 18 U/I for women and 28 U/I for men. High levels (twofold elevated) 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 from cardiovascular diseases in comparison to people with normal low levels of GGT,” said senior author Hanno Ulmer, Ph.D. “For people under 60 years of age, this risk is even higher, amounting to more than two-fold. “Over the past decade, some small studies have suggested a link between high GGT and cardiovascular disease,” said Ulmer, associate professor of medical statistics at the Innsbruck Medical University in Austria.
Several years ago, Italian researchers reported that elevated GGT could indicate early atherosclerosis. Ulmer and his colleagues investigated the researchers’ findings. They examined medical data collected from 1985-2001 from 163,944 (98.4 percent) of the then-enrolled volunteers in the Vorarlberg Health Monitoring and Promotion Program. This is an ongoing study in Austria’s westernmost province that examines risk factors for chronic diseases.
The participants included 74,830 men and 89,114 women, age 19 or older when they entered the study, and had been followed for an average of 11 to 12 years.
After controlling for known cardiovascular risk factors, the team found that GGT was an independent predictor of fatal heart disease or stroke.
At enrollment, 21.9 percent of men and 15.6 percent of the women had elevated GGT. Of the 6,990 deaths that occurred among the volunteers, 43.3 percent resulted from heart disease or a stroke.
Among all men, the risk of cardiovascular death was 28 percent higher for those with moderately high GGT, compared to men with normal levels of the enzyme, and rose to 64 percent for those with highly elevated GGT. In women, the increase in risk ranged from 35 percent to 51 percent.

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