NOVEMBER 01, 2007

Mom?s Extreme Cholesterol Levels Prompt Preemie Births

Women whose cholesterol levels are either too high or too low run the risk of delivering premature babies, according to researchers from the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), part of the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers confirmed previous findings from other research groups that found that very high cholesterol levels can increase the risk of a premature birth.

The NHGRI investigators also found, however, that maternal cholesterol levels that are below average could lead to adverse birth outcomes, including premature birth and low infant birth weight. In addition, a trend toward smaller infant head sizes was noted. The new findings were published in the October 2007 issue of Pediatrics.

The researchers studied 1058 women, aged 21 to 34 years, and their newborns and found that about 5% of the women with cholesterol levels in the moderate range of 159 to 261 mg/dL gave birth prematurely. Women whose levels were less than 159 mg/dL, however, had a 21% incidence of premature births. Full-term babies born to women with low cholesterol weighed an average of 5 oz less than similar babies born to women with moderate cholesterol. In previous studies, it had been shown that about 12% of women with levels above 261 mg/dL also gave birth prematurely.

Link Between Cholesterol and Heart Disease: It?s in the Details

Researchers from St. Louis University School of Medicine have found details regarding the link between cholesterol and heart disease that might aid in the development of new heart disease treatments. They found that cholesterol contributes to atherosclerosis by suppressing the activity of a key protein, transforming growth factor-?, which protects the heart and blood vessels. The researchers hope that this finding could answer questions about other diseases that are associated with high cholesterol levels, including certain cancers. The findings were published in the October 15, 2007, edition of the Journal of Cell Science.

The researchers also found that cells with higher cholesterol levels stimulate an inflammatory response. ?Cholesterol in various chemical forms is very prone to being oxidized, [and] the oxidized form of the cholesterol turns out to be very toxic to cells,? the investigators stated.

High-cholesterol Patients Still Watch Their Diets

Many doctors fear that when they prescribe medications to their patients diagnosed with high cholesterol the patients will take the medicines as a license to eat unhealthily and increase their fat intake. A study from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine shows, however, that these patients instead combine their medicines with a heart-healthy diet to stave off heart disease.

The researchers collected data on 71 patients who were taking statins to prevent heart disease. They interviewed the patients when they started taking the medicine, 3 months later, and 6 months later. They found no significant change in how much saturated fat the patients ate in their regular diets.

The investigators encouraged doctors to continue stressing the importance of lifestyle and dietary changes in conjunction with medication therapy to their patients with high cholesterol. Their findings were published in the August 2007 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Screening Toddlers to Prevent Future Heart Disease

British researchers have suggested that children as young as 15 months could have their cholesterol levels screened to determine future risk of heart disease.

They based their suggestion on research into familial hypercholesterolemia, where high cholesterol runs in families. The condition affects about 2 in every 1000 people and causes very high levels of low-density lipoproteins (LDLs), increasing a patient's risk of death from coronary heart disease. The researchers' findings appear in the September 2007 issue of the British Medical Journal.

The investigators looked at published studies on total and LDL cholesterol levels in people with and without familial hypercholesterolemia to figure out the most efficient way to screen patients and at what age. They found that screening was most effective if done in early childhood (1 to 9 years), which detected 88% of affected patients. Screening newborns and young adults was not as effective.

Once a child was identified as affected, his or her parents would be screened as well, and the affected parent would be treated for high cholesterol right away. The child would be treated in adulthood.

F A S T   F A C T : Dietary cholesterol is found only in animal products, including meat, chicken, fish, eggs, and high-fat dairy products.