Eat Healthy: Your High Cholesterol Could Pass To Your Baby

Have your cholesterol levels checked before getting pregnant. Image by Karen Lefebvre

Mom’s high cholesterol levels could mean baby will have high cholesterol as an adult, new study finds. Image by Karen Lefebvre

There are a lot of things we can pass onto our children; the color of our eyes, the texture of our hair, our skin tone, even our temperament can come out in our kids.

Did you know that your high cholesterol can be something else you give your children? In a new study presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress, Dr. Michael Mendelson and his team of researchers found that if the mother had high LDL cholesterol before pregnancy, then her children were almost five times as likely to have high LDL cholesterol as adults.

Cholesterol and Pregnancy: Study

Dr. Michael Mendelson, a clinical and research fellow at Boston Children’s Hospital and his team of researchers gathered clinical and labortory data from three generations of participants from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS).

The Framingham Heart Study is an ongoing study that began in 1948 in Framingham, Massachusetts, in which enrolled participants had not developed the overt symptoms of heart disease. The sample of this study included offspring from the first and second generation participants (493 participants) and used data from the maternal doctor exams before the participants’ birth.

When examining this group, researchers found that if the mother had high LDL cholesterol levels before pregnancy, her children were almost five times as likely to have high LDL cholesterol levels when tested as adults. High cholesterol before pregnancy was a much stronger association than the mother’s cholesterol levels after pregnancy.

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We don’t know exactly why some people develop high cholesterol and others don’t. As Dr. Mendelson stated in the paper’s press release,  “The risk of developing high cholesterol is not fully explained by known genetic and lifestyle factors. Influences which may play a role in turning genes on or off – such as exposure to high cholesterol in the womb – may have a lasting effect in regulating cholesterol levels, even decades later.

Cholesterol levels are important when determining your risk factor for cardiovascular diseases. Unhealthy cholesterol levels increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes – and if you’re predisposed to high cholesterol levels, you’ll need to be even more careful.

Mom's high cholesterol levels could mean baby will have high cholesterol as an adult, new study finds. Image by Karen Lefebvre

Before getting pregnant, have your cholesterol tested, and talk with your doctor about your results. Image by Karen Lefebvre

High Cholesterol Before Pregnancy Affects Your Babies

Dr. Michael Mendelson told Decoded Pregnancy that this study highlights a link between a woman’s pre-pregnancy cholesterol, and high cholesterol in her adult children. He says, “This connection may be in addition to that of inherited genes and a shared environment. This extends previous work looking at the consequences of obesity and diabetes during pregnancy.

Our data is observational with health information recorded about people in the community living their usual lives and does not measure the direct effect of an intervention in people’s lives. In regards to young women thinking about becoming pregnant, it is important for them to consider the potential health benefits that a healthy lifestyle and diet will impart both for them and that of their children.

We are unable to draw any conclusions about pregnant women or immediate concerns for their baby. As with most research, our study raises important additional questions. What are the mechanisms by which high cholesterol in young women affects their children? And, what is the best way to intervene to improve the health of developing children? These are exciting findings with important health consequences, and we are just getting starting in trying to unravel these connections.

Check Your Cholesterol Now, Help Your Baby Later

This study provided us with clues as to why some families are more likely to have high cholesterol than others.The next step is to figure out why this is happening, and figure out a way to break that cycle of families passing down unhealthy cholesterol levels. As for women who are thinking of becoming pregnant, this is just another example of how important it is for you to be healthy prior to pregnancy. Talk to your doctor, and if you have high cholesterol, work on it now to help your baby later.


Mendelson, M., Lyass, A., D’Agostino,R.B., et al. Impact of Maternal Pre-Pregnancy Dyslipidemia Exposure on Adult Offspring Lipid Levels. (2013). Canadian Journal of Cardiology. Volume 29, Issue 10. Accessed October 17, 2013.

American Heart Association. What your cholesterol levels mean. (2012). Accessed October 17, 2013.

EurekAlert. A mother’s high cholesterol before pregnancy can be passed on to her children. (2013). Accessed October 17, 2013.

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