High Cholesterol Levels in Children – What to Do?
When most people think of high cholesterol, they think of a problem that affects primarily adults (and, even more so as age increases). However, cholesterol levels in children can be elevated as well, and it is important that they are identified and reversed to help contribute to reduced risks of heart related illnesses as well as the development of dangerous cholesterol levels later in life. The relationship between high cholesterol during childhood years has further been linked with long term risk, as kidshealth.org points out that many heart related diseases may have childhood based origins.
One of the biggest precursors to cholesterol levels in children has to do with family history. For instance, children are considered to be higher risk when they have a parent or very close blood relative that has levels of total cholesterol that exceed 240 mg/dL, according to kidshealth.org. Just as important a factor as cholesterol levels for men and women in the immediate family is heart disease history, where children are considered higher risk when close relatives experience coronary related illnesses before the age of 55 or 65, gender dependent. Children that have the aforementioned factors playing into their family histories will likely experience cholesterol testing earlier in life than those who do not, and may be screened between the ages of 2 and 8 years old, and again between the ages of 12 and 16. In general, children without high risk family profiles tend to be screened one time, when they are around ten years old (some children are screened again right before adulthood or immediately following).
Aside from heredity, one of the most common causes of high cholesterol levels in children, WebMD points out that other lifestyle related factors may play a role. Just as diet and activity level can contribute to high cholesterol levels for women and men in adulthood, the same is true for children and both weight and diet can contribute. Understanding these causes are important to ultimately restoring healthy cholesterol levels in affected children through lifestyle and dietary changes that can reduce the risk of diseases and illnesses later in life.
Since diet and obesity are very intimately linked, evaluating a child’s diet is incredibly important to managing cholesterol levels. While this can seem simple on the surface, eliminating high cholesterol foods like some meats and dairy for instance, it actually goes much deeper than that. Children are notorious for sugary and fat filled diets, and these foods may play an even greater role in elevating cholesterol levels in children than some of the hallmark and well known offending high cholesterol foods. In fact, The Harvard School of Public Health points out that bad fats incorporated into the diet can contribute to elevating cholesterol even more so than food sources of the lipids. Thus one immediate step that can be taken to reduce a child’s cholesterol numbers is to consider eliminating as much bad fat (trans fats, saturated fats) as possible. But, sugar cannot be left out of the equation. While most people do not associate the sweet stuff as being related to high cholesterol foods, not only does excess sugar boost triglyceride levels, it also packs on the pounds, and being overweight can lead to a rise in cholesterol.
But, dietary restrictions and eliminations are not the only important parts of a cholesterol diet for children. There are also some healthful additions that can be made as well that can not only contribute to weight loss but also serve as edible, natural cholesterol lowering supplements, so to speak. For instance, there are compounds that are found in many plant based products that have been proven to lower bad cholesterol numbers. For instance, Omega-3 rich fish and nuts filled with polyunsaturated fatty acids are both good choices. And, natural substances like plant sterols and stanols that are found naturally in a lot of vegetables (and, fortified into some food stuffs like orange juice) can substantially contribute to lower LDL levels when consumed regularly.
If dietary changes are not enough, more lifestyle changes may need to be made to manage cholesterol levels in children. One simple step is to make sure that your child is getting enough physical activity. There is some debate over just how exercise helps to stabilize cholesterol levels (weight loss is one theory) but, research has indicated that it does in fact help. It may also be worthwhile to consider some natural picks for the best supplement to lower cholesterol, such as artichoke extract or barley, both of which may be able to reduce both bad and total cholesterol. However, it is important to discuss any supplements you may be considering giving to your child with their health care provider first in order to ensure safety.
Some other common sense tips for controlling cholesterol levels in children include adding in more fresh and whole food, amping up the servings of whole grains, fruits and vegetables and reducing the fat content of milk that you purchase, according to kidshealth.org. And, adding in varied protein sources while eliminating processed foods where possible may also prove effective. However, the single biggest factor for understanding cholesterol levels in children is recognizing them in the first place. There are no symptoms, and no alerts. If you or a close relative have high cholesterol, make a conscious effort to identify potential problems before they start when heredity and lifestyle present obvious risk factors.