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High cholesterol could be your mother's fault

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
High LDL cholesterol can be passed to offspring from moms'

Canadian researchers have found high cholesterol can be passed on to children even before a woman becomes pregnant. The finding sorts out why some people may be doing everything right but still battle heart disease and have heart attacks.

We all know diet and lifestyle play a role in high cholesterol levels and risk of heart disease. Yet many people on a healthy diet who are active still have high levels of cholesterol.

The study presented October 17, 2013 at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, is the first to look backwards to 1948 to find the link between a mother's cholesterol level before pregnancy and risk of heart disease in adult offspring.

The study

Researchers for the study say genes and lifestyle factors fail to explain it all when it comes to high cholesterol.

Dr. Michael Mendelson, a clinical and research fellow at Boston Children's Hospital said in a press release:"One exposure that hasn't been explored well is high cholesterol in young women of childbearing age. We wanted to know: does this pose an extra risk for the child?"

The investigators looked at clinical and laboratory data from the three generations of participants in the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) for their study that dates back to 1948.

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At the study start there were 5200 adult men and women who were free from heart disease. Mendelson says no one had been looking at cholesterol levels in younger healthy people in the 1950's, including young women before pregnancy.

The researchers used information from parents to examine heart risks among first and second generation offspring.

The results showed a strong link between heart disease risks for offspring whose mothers' had high cholesterol before getting pregnant.

Dr. Mendelson said: "Influences which may play a role in turning genes on or off – such as exposure to high cholesterol in the womb – may have a lasting effect in regulating cholesterol levels, even decades later."

Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson Dr. Beth Abramson says the finding highlights the importance of managing cholesterol levels throughout life that can raise deaths from heart disease in future generations.

The next step is to understand how it happens to find out it happens. Abramson say it's often difficult to tell if high cholesterol and heart disease are the result of lifestyle factors or genes. The good news is taking prescribed medications, staying physically active, keeping stress at bay, avoiding too much alcohol and and making healthy dietary choices are all ways to prevent heart disease that can even been reversed with intensive lifestyle management.

More studies are needed to understand how a mother's high cholesterol before pregnancy raises the chances of high cholesterol in offspring and even second generations. The major finding from the study a mother 's high LDL ("bad") cholesterol before a pregnancy was associated with her children having almost five times the likelihood of having high LDL cholesterol as adults.

  1. Explaining LDL cholesterol
  2. Oxycholesterol riskiest for heart disease
  3. Do cholesterol lowering drugs really prevent heart disease?

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons