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Kids Lower Cholesterol With Help From a New Margarine

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WebMD Health News

May 5, 2000 -- Using a new type of margarine lowers cholesterol in healthy children and gives them a head start on avoiding the life-long process of developing heart disease, according to a study from Finland that appears in the April issue of The Journal of Pediatrics.

In addition, the investigators find that this new spread, called plant stanol ester margarine but sold as Benecol, has no bad side effects in the short run for healthy children who already consume a low-saturated-fat, low-cholesterol diet.

The margarine is derived from pine tree wood pulp and works by blocking the absorption of cholesterol in the gastrointestinal tract.

"Finland is a country with a high death rate from [heart] disease," Anne Tammi, MD, tells WebMD. "Most children in our country have [cholesterol levels] much higher than recommended. We wanted to study whether plant stanol margarine would further decrease ? cholesterol in healthy children who had been on a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol for years." Tammi is a researcher at the University of Turku in Finland and one of the study's investigators.

"There is a consensus today that [heart] disease has it roots in very early childhood," Alpo Vuorio, MD, tells Web MD. "The take-home message here is that stanol ester spread offers an effective and safe way to lower [overall] cholesterol and LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) without side effects." Vuorio, a University of Helsinki researcher, led an earlier study on the new margarine.

The 72 children who completed this latest study also are participants in another trial in Finland that is looking at whether children will avoid developing heart disease if they watch their diet from birth. In the study, each day for three months they replaced their regular margarines with 20 grams of the stanol ester spread. To put that in perspective, there are eight grams of stanol ester in one and a half teaspoons.

Blood tests to measure the total cholesterol, LDL "bad" cholesterol and HDL "good" cholesterol, were taken before and after the study.

Using the stanol ester margarine decreased the total cholesterol over 5% and decreased "bad" cholesterol by over 7%. Although the HDL did not change, the effect was still positive, because ratio to total cholesterol count increased.

Should parents include stanol ester margarine in the diet of a healthy child?

"[For now], we are encouraging parents to supply their children with a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol," Tammi says. "This provides a cholesterol reduction of about 5% to 10% if constantly followed."

Linda Van Horn, PhD, a preventive medicine expert at Northwestern University who was not involved in the study, agrees.

"Try diet first," she tells WebMD. "That means less than 30% fat and less than 10% saturated fat. If the child is not adhering to a low-fat diet, then you might add plant stanol ester margarine with the supervision of a health professional. Parents shouldn't think that you can give a child a stanol ester and all the cholesterol problems will melt away."

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Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

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Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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