Early cholesterol checks could prevent heart problems later

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A researcher from Australia suggests that we should start checking cholesterol levels earlier in life.

Their new study reveals that taking action to manage “bad” cholesterol during childhood and young adulthood might help avoid heart disease when we’re older.

The study, published in JAMA, was conducted by scientists from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute.

They found that people who bring down high levels of all types of bad cholesterol (called non-HDL cholesterol) by the time they’re adults have a similar risk of heart problems as those who never had high levels.

Associate Professor Costan Magnussen, the senior author, explains that dyslipidemia, a condition where there are abnormal levels of cholesterol or fats in the blood, can be dangerous even though it doesn’t show obvious symptoms.

It’s marked by high levels of bad cholesterol like LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides, which can lead to the buildup of plaque in the arteries.

According to Associate Professor Magnussen, heart disease can actually start in childhood.

He believes we should talk more about screening for cholesterol issues and ways to prevent them much earlier in life, rather than waiting until middle age when the disease might already be advanced and harder to treat effectively.

Recent research from the International Childhood Cardiovascular Cohort Consortium supports this idea. They found a link between five common risk factors in childhood—like body weight, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure—and the chances of having heart problems later in life.

“Having too much bad cholesterol in childhood, influenced by our genes, environment, and lifestyle, is a big worry,” says Associate Professor Magnussen.

“But the good news is that intervening early could change the course of someone’s heart health for the better.”

The study, which followed over 5,100 people in the U.S. and Finland for many years, suggests there’s a chance to make a difference before reaching middle age.

Effective actions taken earlier in life might undo the harm caused by high cholesterol during childhood and young adulthood.

Although some people debate whether it’s necessary to check children’s cholesterol levels, groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics have recommended doing so for kids aged 9 to 11 since 2011. However, not many places have put this into practice.

“At the very least, we should talk about dealing with high bad cholesterol much sooner,” says Associate Professor Magnussen.

“It might mean we have to be more serious about changing lifestyles and make sure kids, teens, and young adults know about this issue before it leads to heart problems later on.”

While some individuals might benefit from taking statins, a type of medication that helps lower cholesterol, most people with high bad cholesterol levels could see improvements with changes in lifestyle.

For example, a study led by Associate Professor Magnussen’s team earlier this year found that giving dietary advice to parents of infants reduced the chances of high bad cholesterol by almost half over 20 years.

It’s important to note that dyslipidemia in children isn’t the same as familial hypercholesterolemia.

The latter is caused by inheriting specific gene mutations that affect how the body handles cholesterol, resulting in very high cholesterol levels and a higher risk of heart problems.

If you care about heart health, please read studies about the best time to take vitamins to prevent heart disease, and calcium supplements could harm your heart health.

For more information about health, please see recent studies that blackcurrants can reduce blood sugar after meal and results showing how drinking milk affects risks of heart disease and cancer.

The research findings can be found in JAMA.

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