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Friday, 8 October, 1999, 00:57 GMT 01:57 UK
Child's heart health 'set in pregnancy'
Mothers can pass on heart dangers to their children
Pregnant women with high cholesterol levels could be storing up trouble for their children once they reach middle age.

Research, published in The Lancet, suggests that women with hypercholesterolaemia are not just putting themselves at risk of heart disease and stroke.

The results indicate that the high cholesterol levels bring about key changes in the blood vessels of the child - which will make them far more vulnerable to the same conditions.

The findings have reinforced calls for even young children to be screened for the hardening of the arteries caused by excessive levels of fat in the bloodstream.

Dr Gerald Berenson, of the Tulane School of Public health in New Orleans, said: "It is imperative to examine all children and start prevention early in life."

He suggests lowering the overall amounts of fat in the diet for the first three years of life, as studies have shown that this does not affect growth and development.

Another suggestion is to prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins to pre-adolescents whose families prove genetically susceptible to having high cholesterol.

The latest study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, looked at the fatty streaks and damage accumulating in the main artery of children below the age of three years.

They found that damage progressed far faster in the children of women with high cholesterol levels.

Efforts to cut cholesterol

The exact way that the high cholesterol levels in the mother manage to harm the baby are unclear, but the scientists behind the research recommend that efforts should be made to treat pregnant women who have high levels.

One of the standard treatments, statin drugs, cannot be given to pregnant women.

The team said: "The obvious approach would be dietary intervention.

"A 20% decrease in cholesterol concentrations has been achieved in pregnant women by dietary intervention."

There are also newer drug treatments for high cholesterol levels which can be used in pregnancy.

See also:

26 May 99 | Health
Press-ups push out cholesterol
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