Background: Both genetic and environmental factors contribute to triglyceride, low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C), and high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDL-C) levels. Although genome-wide association studies are currently testing the genetic factors systematically, testing and reporting one or a few factors at a time can lead to fragmented literature for environmental chemical factors. We screened for correlation between environmental factors and lipid levels, utilizing four independent surveys with information on 188 environmental factors from the Centers of Disease Control, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, collected between 1999 and 2006.
Methods: We used linear regression to correlate each environmental chemical factor to triglycerides, LDL-C and HDL-C adjusting for age, age(2), sex, ethnicity, socio-economic status and body mass index. Final estimates were adjusted for waist circumference, diabetes status, blood pressure and survey. Multiple comparisons were controlled for by estimating the false discovery rate and significant findings were tentatively validated in an independent survey.
Results: We identified and validated 29, 9 and 17 environmental factors correlated with triglycerides, LDL-C and HDL-C levels, respectively. Findings include hydrocarbons and nicotine associated with lower HDL-C and vitamin E (γ-tocopherol) associated with unfavourable lipid levels. Higher triglycerides and lower HDL-C were correlated with higher levels of fat-soluble contaminants (e.g. polychlorinated biphenyls and dibenzofurans). Nutrients and vitamin markers (e.g. vitamins B, D and carotenes), were associated with favourable triglyceride and HDL-C levels.
Conclusions: Our systematic association study has enabled us to postulate about broad environmental correlation to lipid levels. Although subject to confounding and reverse causality bias, these findings merit evaluation in additional cohorts.