When there is a family history of early-onset coronary artery disease, or a family history of high cholesterol, the current recommendation is to screen a child for elevated cholesterol levels. In addition, screening for high cholesterol is required if a child is obese or suffering from childhood forms of hypertension or diabetes. It is currently recommended that this screening should occur between the ages of two and 10 years.
Unfortunately, these recommendations do not go far enough, and physicians risk missing many cases of significantly elevated levels of cholesterol in children.
How early should parents intervene in order to prevent potential development of coronary artery disease in their baby? The answer is that it is never too early to intervene.
A little known medical fact is that the damage caused by high cholesterol, called dyslipidemia, can begin to occur before a child’s birth, during fetal life. The diet and eating habits of the mother during pregnancy lay the groundwork for blood vessel development in the gestational fetus. After birth, the single most important and protective food a child can consume is its mother’s breast milk. Many studies have shown that breast-fed children develop far fewer chronic diseases as they grow into young adulthood, with fewer incidences of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.
When being transitioned away from breast milk or formula, children still need a certain intake of fats, but these need to be healthy fats. Between one and two years of age, low-fat dairy foods are acceptable, and above two years of age, non-fat dairy can be introduced as part of the regular diet. When integrating eggs or meat as part of the daily menu, it is best to be assured that both poultry and cattle were raised as grain-fed livestock. A grain-based diet for these animal sources results in foods that have a higher concentration of healthy fats for the child’s intake.
To screen or not to screen may be the question of the day, but the answer to being healthy lies in what you eat. The following foods and adjustments to diet have been proven to lower serum cholesterol:
- Whole citrus (the pulp absorbs cholesterol)
- Nuts and seeds (ligands bind cholesterol)
- Ground flaxseed (ligands bind cholesterol)
- Soy protein
- Chick peas (hummus)
- Fish or fish oil 2 grams per day
- Dark chocolate
- Dark green vegetables like spinach (they are the anti-diabetes food and a good source of Omega 3)
- Whole grains (even instant oatmeal)
- Reduce the simple sugar
Eat the fruits and vegetables that stain your clothes (these tend to come from the more moderate climates like the Mediterranean region). In general, limit the fruits from the more tropical regions. Tropical fruits are healthy, but they tend to have higher free-sugar content, and if consumed to excess, they may increase the level of bad cholesterol.
Finally, do not forget the best exercise: Walking. Walking is the live-longer, anti-diabetes and lower-your-cholesterol sport for all weathers and all ages, starting in early childhood – just as soon as your toddler learns to stand on his or her own two feet.
In fact, in the healthiest cultures, there is a common proverb that sums up the basis of health living: “We have with us at all times two doctors – the right foot, and the left foot.”