Elevated Triglycerides in Children – What Could Be a Reason?

Elevated Triglycerides in Children

What are triglycerides? They are fats found within the bloodstream and are normal to be present within everyone’s body. They come from the breakdown of foods that are eaten and serve as a means of energy for the body to burn. Additional triglycerides not used by the body are stored for later use and are responsible for the fat that can collect in the midsection. However, elevated triglycerides can lead to an increased risk of atherosclerosis, a precursor to heart attack and stroke. Atherosclerosis refers to the buildup of these blood fats which can lead to narrowing or hardening of the arteries.

When triglycerides reach an elevated state, the condition is known as hypertriglyceridemia. This refers to levels that are above normal as evidenced from a simple blood test. There are many causes of hypertriglyceridemia in children. Genetic predisposition is one such factor. If mom or dad or both have high triglycerides, their children are at a greater risk for having triglycerides too high as well. Some health conditions like lupus and hypothyroidism can also contribute to elevated triglycerides. In addition, there are some medications that can play a role in elevating the blood fats, such as protease inhibitors and beta blockers.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest factors for an increased risk of high triglycerides has to do with diet and lifestyle. As the diets of children have changed over the years to include a greater abundance of refined carbohydrates and processed foods as well as dramatically increased sugar intake, both obesity and higher cholesterol levels in children has been rising. Foods like pizza and macaroni and cheese, staples of many children’s diets, can contribute to elevated triglycerides. In fact, refined carbohydrates are one of the major factors to this increased risk. Obesity plays an important role as well, and children that are overweight tend to be at greater risk for developing increased triglycerides levels.

A lack of physical activity, made more possible now than ever thanks to the growing popularity and greater accessibility to televisions, computers and video games, contributes to the risk of higher triglycerides in children in two ways. First, regular physical activity has been shown to have a positive impact on reducing the levels of these blood fats. Secondly, reduced physical activity increases the risk of obesity which also increases the risk of elevated triglycerides.

Testing for triglyceride levels in children is recommended if risk factors are present. For instance, if there is a family history of heart disease or a parent or both parents that have high cholesterol, it is possible that a blood test may be performed. In addition, children who have risk factors such as obesity, exposure to tobacco smoke or diabetes also may need to have their triglyceride and cholesterol levels checked. Routine testing of these blood fats normally occurs as part of regular examinations in children starting at around ten years old to then be repeated around the age of eighteen.

When elevated triglycerides are found in children and there is no medical cause such as disease or illness, it is important that lifestyle factors be evaluated as it is likely that these are the cause. Children who are less active, overweight or engage in poor dietary choices may be more likely to have higher triglycerides. Reversing these risk factors involves lifestyle changes to help achieve a normal triglyceride level. Avoiding foods like refined carbohydrates from pizzas and macaroni and cheese for instance, is a good start. And, staving off high sugar juices and sodas is another important consideration (this will also reduce the risk for diabetes later in life as well). Candies, cookies and other foods that are both over processed and packed with sugar should also be avoided. Not only will these dietary changes help to achieve a normal triglyceride level, but they will also help potentially prevent other illnesses from developing and lead to greater overall health when combined with healthy amounts of physical activity.

In some cases, elevated triglycerides must be treated with medications typically combined with lifestyle changes. One of these is a class of medications known as fibrates. Modalim, TriCor and Lopid are all medications that fall into this category. Fibrates work in many different ways to control cholesterol and promote low triglycerides levels including increasing fatty acid production and therefore reducing triglyceride production in the liver as well as increasing good cholesterol and reducing bad cholesterol levels by various means.

With the increased availability of poor food choices made available to children as well as technological advances that promote more sedentary lifestyles, being cognizant of the long term potential health effects of these and making healthy changes can greatly reduce the risk of serious health problems down the road. Increasing healthy whole food options like fruits and vegetables in children’s diets as well as encouraging healthy activity levels can greatly reduce the risk of elevated triglycerides as well as other health hazards in children.