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Cholesterol screening for children

By Helen Lobato - posted Tuesday, 22 July 2008


According to Tara Parker Pope writing in the New York Times, American pediatricians are recommending wider cholesterol screening for children and more aggressive use of cholesterol-lowering drugs, starting as early as the age of eight, in the hope of preventing adult heart problems.

This has followed guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics which also calls for children to be given low-fat milk after 12 months of age. The academy estimates that 30 to 60 per cent of children with high cholesterol are being missed under screening guidelines and that statins or cholesterol-lowering drugs, may be their best hope of lowering their risk of early heart attack.

These recommendations call for cholesterol screening of children and adolescents, starting as early as two and no later than 10, if they come from families with a history of high cholesterol or heart attacks before the age of 55 for men and 65 for women.

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Adults have been frightened into believing the cholesterol myth for the last few decades and now the pharmaceutical industry is stretching its tentacles into the lives of our babies and young children. This is a blatant attempt by the drug companies, aided by their many servants such as the FDA, government regulators and our very compliant mainstream media, to sell more cholesterol lowering pills and this time, scandalously, to young children.

For many decades the theory that high cholesterol is bad for you and may contribute to heart disease has been widely promoted and has led to the practice of prescribing statin drugs for those of us who have blood levels of cholesterol deemed by the marketers as too high and risky to heart health. In actual fact, as is the case in so many other diseases that we are supposed to be suffering, hypercholesterolaemia is an invented disease, conjured up at the time when doctors first began to measure cholesterol levels in blood.

High cholesterol isn’t like diabetes or anaemia where we have very obvious signs of unwellness such as persistent tiredness or extreme thirst. High blood cholesterol has to be diagnosed by a blood test or else it would not be of concern to the average person at all. We do not feel unwell when our cholesterol levels are high. In fact many of those who have high cholesterol feel perfectly healthy and that is because they are very well.

When we demean cholesterol and lower it with statin drugs we cause damage to our body cells which need cholesterol to maintain normal cellular activity. Cholesterol is the body’s repair substance and is the precursor to vitamin D, necessary for numerous biochemical processes including mineral metabolism. The bile salts, required for the digestion of fat, are made of cholesterol and those people who suffer from low cholesterol often have trouble digesting fats.

Cholesterol also functions as a powerful antioxidant, thus protecting us against cancer and ageing. The drugs that lower cholesterol are called statins and are sold under a variety of names: 36 million Americans take a statin every day, generating annual sales of $15.5 billion for the manufacturers, and making two statins the top two best-selling drugs in the USA. In 2004 there were an estimated 1.2 million Australians using statin drugs also.

There are many side effects from these statin drugs such as muscle pain and weakness, a condition called rhabdomyolysis, most likely due to the depletion of Co-enzyme Q-10. The heart itself is a huge muscle needing plentiful supplies of Co-enzyme Q-10 which are depleted by cholesterol lowering drugs leading in many cases to heart muscle failure. Many researchers (PDF 415KB) are finding that there has been a dramatic rise in congestive heart failure over the past decade and point the finger of blame at the overzealous use of statins.

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Polyneuropathy, also known as peripheral neuropathy, is another side effect of statin drugs and is characterised by weakness, tingling and pain in the hands and feet as well as difficulty walking. The damage is often irreversible and people who take large doses for a long time may be left with permanent nerve damage, even after they stop taking the drug.

Then there is the issue of statin-induced cognitive impairment and while the pharmaceutical industry denies that statins can cause amnesia, memory loss has shown up in several statin trials. A study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh showed (PDF 261KB) that patients treated with statins for six months compared poorly with patients on a placebo in solving complex mazes, psychomotor skills and memory tests.

The recommendation from the American pediatricians to screen and prescribe cholesterol lowering drugs for children in the hope of preventing adult heart problems needs to be widely condemned. Pediatric clinicians noted a number of years ago that children who were put onto low fat and low cholesterol diets failed to grow properly. During the critical growing years, children need levels of fat in excess of the levels recommended in the US dietary guidelines. Mother’s milk contains 55 per cent of its calories as fat, much of it saturated fat. Children need high levels of fat throughout the period of growth and development. In addition, the animal fats provide vitamins A and D necessary for protein and mineral assimilation.

We should be appalled at the lengths that drug companies will go to make their profits and exploit us all. This time it is the very young who need our vigilance and protection.

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About the Author

Helen Lobato is an independent health researcher and radio broadcaster with community radio 3cr and at present is a co-producer of Food fight, a weekly program around food security issues. Helen has a background in critical care nursing.

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