In the U.S. 92.1 million people have some form of heart disease. Now, a 2017 study suggests that a cholesterol-blocking vaccine might help in the fight against heart disease, but doctors caution it will be years before we know for sure whether it’s safe and effective for humans.

Researchers from the Netherlands tested a vaccine in mice that would block against a protein called PCSK9 that would otherwise allow the “bad” cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol, to build up in the bloodstream. They found that the treatment cut the harmful LDL cholesterol by up to 50 percent over 12 months and appeared to protect against the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries.

This is important because those fatty deposits can block the heart’s arteries and lead to a heart attack.

“The notion of a cholesterol vaccine is very intriguing but it is definitely years away from widespread therapeutic use in humans and requires much more testing,” said Michael Chen, MD, an interventional cardiologist at Adventist HealthCare White Oak Medical Center. “Overall though, any medicine for cholesterol is certainly no substitute for exercise and good dietary habits.”

A high cholesterol level is associated with a greater risk of heart attack and other forms of heart disease and LDL is particularly harmful for the heart, explains Dr. Chen. While some people have an inherited condition causing high cholesterol, it is often caused by poor diet, lack of physical activity, alcohol consumption and smoking.

Dr. Chen offers these tips to keep a heart-healthy cholesterol level.

  • Have your doctor check you cholesterol at least annually
  • Eat more vegetables and fruit
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, five days per week
  • Minimize red meat consumption
  • Avoid alcohol consumption
  • Do not smoke

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