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Mayo Clinic Q&A: high cholesterol at age 11; soda and blood pressure

BOY SUFFERS FROM HIGH CHOLESTEROL AT AGE 11

My grandson is 11 and already has high cholesterol. He does not eat a lot of junk food and plays many sports, but we do have high cholesterol in our family. Could this be hereditary, and, if so, is it common to show up in such a young person?

High cholesterol certainly can be genetic, and it may show up at an early age in some people. Although your grandson can't do anything about his genetics, he can make lifestyle choices to help manage his cholesterol. If that isn't enough, then medication to help control cholesterol may be an option, too.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found within the fats, or lipids, in blood. Cholesterol is carried through the blood attached to proteins. This combination of proteins and cholesterol is called a lipoprotein. You may have heard of different kinds of cholesterol. They are based on what type of cholesterol the lipoprotein carries. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is sometimes called bad cholesterol. It transports cholesterol particles throughout the body. LDL cholesterol builds up on the walls of the arteries, making them hard and narrow. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is considered good cholesterol. It picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to the liver.

While the body needs some cholesterol to build healthy cells, having too much cholesterol can raise a person's risk for heart disease. High cholesterol, particularly high levels of LDL, can lead to the development of fatty deposits in blood vessels. Eventually, these deposits can make it hard for blood to flow through the arteries. When that happens, the heart may not get as much oxygen-rich blood as it needs. That raises the risk of a heart attack. If blood flow to the brain is reduced, that can cause a stroke.

Genetics plays a role in a person's risk for developing high cholesterol. For example, genetic makeup may keep cells from effectively removing LDL cholesterol from the blood or cause the liver to produce too much cholesterol.

When a young person has high cholesterol, the first steps to help control cholesterol usually involve lifestyle changes. Getting regular exercise and staying at a healthy weight both can help. It sounds like your grandson is already active in sports. He should continue those activities, with a goal of getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day. He also should limit the amount of time he spends in front of computers, tablets, televisions and phones.

Eating a healthy diet is also important for cholesterol control. Working with a dietitian can be very useful for families who have children dealing with high cholesterol. A dietitian can assess your grandson's eating habits and recommend changes. The dietitian also can offer ideas for healthy food choices.

In some cases, lifestyle changes may not be enough to keep cholesterol in check, and medication is necessary to bring cholesterol down to a healthy level. It is important to lower high cholesterol in children, because, if left untreated, high cholesterol eventually can lead to narrowed and hardened arteries, increasing the risk of serious health problems later in life.

Aida Lteif, M.D., pediatric endocrinology and metabolism, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.

DOES DIET SODA CAUSE HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?

I typically drink three or four cans of diet soda each day, and my doctor told me it may be the cause of my high blood pressure. But, I've been drinking this much soda for years and have never had any issues. Why would it suddenly affect my blood pressure?

It's unlikely that diet soda is causing your high blood pressure. A number of studies have examined this topic, and there is no evidence to suggest a link between regularly drinking diet soda and an increase in blood pressure. In fact, some research findings actually seem to suggest the opposite.

A variety of sweeteners are available on the market. All of them are judged to be safe for general use. The three sweeteners primarily used in soft drinks and diet sodas are stevia, sucralose and aspartame. Stevia, a natural product, has been shown to possibly lower blood pressure in people who have high blood pressure. Sucralose, which has almost the same molecular structure as table sugar, does not have much, if any, effect on blood pressure.

The bulk of diet sodas are made with aspartame. Aspartame does not appear to cause high blood pressure either. For example, in one study looking at a possible connection between the two, rats were fed either sugary foods or large doses of aspartame. The results showed that blood pressure went down in the group that consumed the artificial sweetener.

The most telling study, though, was done with humans. It tested blood pressure in four groups of overweight participants. Each group drank 1 liter of either regular soda with sugar, diet soda, milk or water every day for six months. Blood pressure in those who consumed the diet soda and the milk came down by 10 to 15 percent, compared with those who drank sugared soda.

As you are considering the amount of diet soda you drink each day, it is worthwhile to note that some population studies, called epidemiologic research, show a relationship between the regular use of diet soda and obesity. These studies also show a relationship between diet soda consumption and metabolic syndrome, and an increase in cardiovascular disorders. However, these are associations only. Some nonmedical literature you see may interpret those findings to mean that diet soda causes these medical conditions. But, this type of research does not pinpoint the cause of the disorders. It only identifies factors that may be related.

Although changing your diet soda habit may not have an effect on your blood pressure, other lifestyle changes can make a difference. For example, eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Don't smoke.

Sometimes lifestyle changes alone aren't enough, and medication is necessary. Talk with your doctor about the blood pressure treatment options that are right for you.

Irvin Cohen, M.D., nephrology, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Mayo Clinic Q & A is an educational resource and doesn't replace regular medical care. Email a question to MayoClinicQ&A@mayo.edu. For more information, visit mayoclinic.org. © 2016 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC. All rights reserved.

Mayo Clinic Q&A: high cholesterol at age 11; soda and blood pressure 06/09/16 [Last modified: Thursday, June 9, 2016 5:50pm]
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