By Robert Preidt
TUESDAY, April 30 (HealthDay News) -- Exposure to secondhand smoke at home appears to lower teen girls' levels of the "good" cholesterol -- the substance that reduces heart disease risk, researchers report.
The new study included more than 1,000 male and female teens, aged 17, in Australia who had blood tests to check their levels of "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. While "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol creates a build-up that can block blood vessels, HDL plays a positive role by clearing excess cholesterol from the bloodstream.
The researchers also examined information about smoking in the teens' households beginning before they were born, when their mothers were 18 weeks into their pregnancies. Forty-eight percent of the study participants had been exposed to secondhand smoke at home, according to the study in the May issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
"In our study, we found 17-year-old girls raised in households where passive smoking occurred were more likely to experience declines in HDL cholesterol levels," lead author Dr. Chi Le-Ha, of the University of Western Australia, said in a news release from the Endocrine Society.
"Secondhand smoke did not have the same impact on teenage boys of the same age, which suggests passive smoking exposure may be more harmful to girls. Considering cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in women in the western world, this is a serious concern," Le-Ha added.
The findings suggest that exposure to secondhand smoke in childhood may be a more significant risk factor for women than men.
"We need to redouble public health efforts to reduce young children's secondhand smoke exposure in the home, particularly girls' exposure," Le-Ha stated in the news release.
The association seen in the study does not prove that there is a cause-and-effect relationship between secondhand smoke exposure in girls and low levels of HDL cholesterol.