Cholesterol - The Basics

What is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance (fat) found in your blood and in your body’s cells. You need a certain amount of cholesterol for your body to function normally. However, sometimes people have too much cholesterol and this can increase their risk for health problems, including heart attacks and strokes. While these health problems are quite rare in children, atherosclerosis is known to begin in childhood and visible cholesterol build up in the arteries has been found in teenagers. The health habits that contribute to these conditions are established during childhood, thus making early identification of high cholesterol levels essential for ensuring long-term cardiovascular health.

What are the different types of cholesterol?

Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) - LDL is a type of cholesterol that is considered “bad” cholesterol. It is the major carrier of cholesterol into your body’s tissues. Too much LDL in the blood can clog your arteries and may result in heart disease. A normal LDL is less than 110mg/dL.

High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) - HDL is a type of cholesterol that is considered “good” cholesterol. HDL protects your body by bringing cholesterol away from your arteries and removing it from the blood. Therefore, the higher your HDL level, the lower the risk of heart disease. A normal HDL is greater than 40 mg/dL

Triglycerides- Triglycerides, while not cholesterol, are the major form of fat found in the body. Triglycerides come from foods high in fat or carbohydrates (such as candy and juice). When you eat, your body changes any calories it doesn’t need into triglycerides for energy storage. A normal triglyceride level is less than 75 mg/dL for children under age 10 and less than 90 mg/dL for older children.

What causes high cholesterol?

Genetic predisposition is the most common reason for high cholesterol in children. Other factors include poor diet, being overweight, and not getting enough physical activity. Elevated cholesterol levels typically cause no symptoms and are only detected through screening laboratory tests. In children, these tests are typically recommended between 9-11 years of age and again after 17 years of age.

What should I do if my child has high cholesterol?

Elevated cholesterol levels can usually be lowered through a combination of diet, exercise, and when necessary, weight loss. While no one approach is appropriate for all circumstances, general recommendations would include:

Eat a diet high in fiber-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Utilize fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products. Incorporate foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids (oily fish, olive oil and canola oil).

Limit fried foods, sugar, sweets, and refined grains (white bread, white rice, processed pre-packaged snack foods).

Restrict sedentary activities to <2 hr/day and encourage at least 1 hr of enjoyable, moderately vigorous activity daily.

Involve your All Star team. Your child’s doctor can discuss your individual situation and help identify lifestyle changes that may help.

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