Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Too Many Teens Have High Cholesterol

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Too Many Teens Have High Cholesterol

Article excerpt

About one in five U.S. kids and teens ages 6 to 19 has abnormal cholesterol levels, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS 2015). And among the 16-to-19 age group, the number rises to more than one in four.

"[This] is concerning because high cholesterol levels are a major factor contributing to heart disease and stroke," says Mary Lou Gavin, MD, a pediatrician specializing in weight management and senior medical editor at KidsHealth.org. "Research shows that cardiovascular disease has its roots in childhood."

Cholesterol is a lipid, or fat. The body uses cholesterol to help digest fatty foods and form cell membranes and hormones (progestagens, glucocorticoids, mineralocorticoids, androgens, and estrogens). The liver produces about 1,000 mg of cholesterol daily, which is enough for healthy functioning. Fruit, vegetables, and grains don't have any cholesterol. Dietary cholesterol comes from:

* dairy products (e.g., milk, cheese, and ice cream),

* egg yolks,

* meat,

* poultry, and

* seafood.

To travel through the bloodstream, cholesterol has to combine with proteins. The combination of cholesterol and proteins is called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), or "bad cholesterol," are the primary cholesterol carriers. Too much LDL in the bloodstream can build up inside blood vessels. The buildup forms plaque--a hard substance that can cause blood vessels to become stiffer, narrower, and blocked. Plaque makes it easier for blood clots to form. A blood clot can cause a heart attack or stroke.

High-density lipoproteins (HDL), or "good cholesterol," on the other hand, carry cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it's processed and sent out of the body. HDLs might even help remove cholesterol from areas of plaque. High levels of LDL increase heart disease and stroke risks. High levels of HDL can help protect the circulatory system. Here's a mnemonic to remember good versus bad cholesterol: LDL starts with "l" for "lousy"; HDL starts with "h" for "healthy."

Total cholesterol, based primarily on levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol, is a measure of the total amount of cholesterol in the blood. The combination of high levels of LDL and low levels of HDL indicates an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. …

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