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Start heart health at a toddler age

You might be able to build up a healthy heart as early as preschool, according to a new study inPLOS-One.

Studying children from the ages of one to five, the study found that higher levels of Vitamin D were associated with lower levels of non-high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which has steadily been implicated as a predictor of future cardiovascular health. Should their findings hold firm, the study authors believe that it could point to "early life interventions for cardiovascular disease prevention."

The study is the largest of its kind to look for a connection between Vitamin D and the concentrations of lipids like cholesterol and triglycerides in children this young. Evidence for this link in adults has been somewhat inconsistent, but it’s been shown that elevated levels of these lipids in adolescents can endure into adulthood, and that low Vitamin D is associated with risk factors like obesity and high blood pressure, according to the authors.

The authors teased out data taken from the TARGetKids! study conducted in Canada. According to the TARGetKids! website, the point of their study is to provide future researchers a registry that will allow them to learn about the "health of Canadian children, their long-term health as they grow and develop, and how to improve the quality of primary health care for children in Canada." Children, starting from birth, were recruited as they visited their primary care provider, with their physical measurements and blood work inputted in the registry.

For the purposes of this current study, the authors focused on 1,961 healthy children from 2008 to 2011, looking at their Vitamin D levels through the amount of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) in their blood. They also observed their blood levels of non-HDL cholesterol and other lipids. Though there was no statistically significant link between Vitamin D and specific lipids like low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol or HDL, there was a weak inverse association to triglycerides and a stronger link to non-HDL cholesterol, even after accounting for factors like BMI or milk intake.

"Maybe the factors that lead to cardiovascular disease start in early childhood," said study author Dr. Jonathon Maguire, a pediatrician and researcher at St. Michael's Hospital, in astatement . "If vitamin D is associated with cholesterol in early childhood, this may provide an opportunity for early life interventions to reduce cardiovascular risk."  

Though there reminds work to be done on sussing out whether elevated levels of non-HDL cholesterol in children are harmful to future heart health, the authors note that the National Heart and Blood Institute already recommends that non-HDL levels be considered the prominent measurement for universal screenings of cardiovascular risk in children, since it’s known to be a risk factor in adults.

And even if low Vitamin D turns out to be a relatively weak indicator of heart risk, it’s still one that could be vital to address, simply because of the sheer amount of people who struggle with chronic heart issues. "Some may argue that the absolute effect of 25(OH)D on non-HDL cholesterol appears small, however at a population level this relationship may have important implications on the cumulative risk of cardiovascular disease over the life course," the authors wrote. In the race to secure our nation’s heart health, any little boost up could save countless lives.

The authors have called for further randomized and controlled studies to determine whether increasing children’s levels of Vitamin D can improve their (bad) cholesterol. That might include providing kids with more dietary dairy products, outdoor activities, or supplementation (56 percent of the kids in their sample were already on Vitamin D supplements).

Source: Birken C, Lebovic G, Anderson L, et al. Association between Vitamin D and Circulating Lipids in Early Childhood. PLOS One. 2015.

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