Objective: To investigate possible risk factors and mechanisms behind the four times higher and diverging mortality from coronary heart disease in Lithuanian compared with Swedish middle aged men.
Design: Concomitant cross sectional comparison of randomly selected 50 year old men without serious acute or chronic disease. Methods and equipment were identical or highly standardised between the centres.
Setting: Linköping (Sweden) and Vilnius (Lithuania).
Subjects: 101 and 109 men aged 50 in Linköping and Vilnius respectively.
Main outcome measures: Anthropometric data, blood pressure, smoking, plasma lipid and lipoprotein concentrations, susceptibility of low density lipoprotein to oxidation, and plasma concentrations of fat soluble antioxidant vitamins.
Results: Systolic blood pressure was higher (141 v 133 mm Hg, P < 0.01), smoking habits were similar, and plasma total cholesterol (5.10 v 5.49 mmol/l, P < 0.01) and low density lipoprotein cholesterol (3.30 v 3.68 mmol/l, P < 0.01) lower in men from Vilnius compared with those from Linköping. Triglyceride, high density lipoprotein cholesterol, and Lp(a) lipoprotein concentrations did not differ between the two groups. The resistance of low density lipoprotein to oxidation was lower in the men from Vilnius; lag phase was 67.6 v 79.5 minutes (P < 0.001). Also lower in the men from Vilnius were mean plasma concentrations of lipid soluble antioxidant vitamins (beta carotene 377 v 510 nmol/l, P < 0.01; lycopene 327 v 615 nmol/l, P < 0.001; and lipid adjusted gamma tocopherol 0.25 v 0.46 mumol/mmol, P < 0.001. alpha Tocopherol concentration did not differ). Regression analysis showed that the lag phase was still significantly shorter by 10 minutes in men from Vilnius when the influence of other known factors was taken into account.
Conclusions: The high mortality from coronary heart disease in Lithuania is not caused by traditional risk factors alone. Mechanisms related to antioxidant state may be important.