TORONTO – New Canadian research is suggesting that there may be telltale signs in your toddler’s blood that could predict his or her risk of heart disease later on in life.
Scientists out of Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital say that measuring vitamin D levels and cholesterol in kids as young as one to five years old may shed light on cardiovascular health decades later.
“In the adult world, research has suggested that people who have heart disease have lower vitamin D levels but it’s not clear which is the chicken or the egg. We thought children may provide the best marker to take a look at what’s going on and if this same phenomenon exists in kids,” lead researcher, Dr. Jonathan Maguire, told Global News.
“Maybe the factors that lead to cardiovascular disease start in early childhood. If vitamin D is associated with cholesterol in early childhood, this may provide an opportunity for early life interventions to reduce cardiovascular risk,” Maguire said.
He’s a pediatrician and researcher at St. Michael’s Hospital.
Scientists have already pointed to a link between low vitamin D levels and risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. For their research, Maguire and his team looked at blood samples from 1,961 kids.
They’re enrolled in the TARGet Kids! project led by St. Mike’s, the Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Toronto. It’s following the health of about 4,000 kids from infancy to adulthood so that experts have a life-long glimpse into the health of Canadians.
The researchers zeroed in on two things in the blood samples – vitamin D and non-HDL cholesterol, which is all of a person’s cholesterol minus his or her good cholesterol levels. Turns out, the pediatricians found a “statistically significant association” between higher vitamin D levels and lower non-HDL cholesterol levels.
If kids had a fair amount of vitamin D, they were less likely to have bad cholesterol. These findings even existed after factoring in weight, body mass index, diet and exercise.
The kids in the study had just under two cups of milk per day – that was their main source of vitamin D. About half of the them – 56 per cent – were taking a vitamin D supplement, too.
“What we’ve found is that kids with lower vitamin D levels had higher levels of non-HDL cholesterol. This suggests that cardiovascular disease may start when we’re very little and persist throughout our lives,” Maguire warned.
“It makes us think about the implications of vitamin D beyond what it’s doing in our blood and our bones. It may relate to heart disease,” he said.
He suggested his findings could help pediatricians and parents keep a watchful eye on kids’ health. The American Medical Association recommends about 400 units of vitamin D per day – cow’s milk is a great source, while multivitamins labelled for kids could be an additional supplement.
“At this point in time, it’s not a bad idea to keep in mind how much vitamin D our kids are taking. We shouldn’t go overboard, though,” Maguire said.
His full findings were published Wednesday afternoon in the journal, PLOS ONE.