Birth Weight, High Cholesterol Not Linked

Don’t blame your mother for your high cholesterol, a new study suggests.

Despite studies to the contrary, low birth weight only slightly affects cholesterol later in life.

This new report appears in the latest issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The fairly controversial “fetal origins” theory (search) — that adult diseases can be traced back to weight while developing in the womb — has linked high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol with a pregnant woman’s nutrition, which affects her baby’s birth size, explains lead researcher Rachel Huxley, DPhil, a community health researcher with Australia’s University of Sidney.

However, recent review of those studies has questioned this link, calling the studies flawed. In fact, one recent, large study found that birth weight affected only triglyceride levels (search), a fat found in the blood that is linked to diabetes and higher heart disease risk.

In their study, Huxley and colleagues reviewed 58 studies involving nearly 70,000 people. After sifting through all the data and identifying the best studies, they found little evidence linking birth weight with high cholesterol (search) in adulthood.

When birth weight was 1 kg lower than normal, there was only about 2.0 mg/dL higher total cholesterol later in life, she reports. This figure “could overestimate” the risk, since some studies in the review were based on mothers’ recall.

Other studies conducted in Europe involving babies born during the Dutch Famine and the Leningrad Siege have also shown no association between low birth weight and subsequent cholesterol. In fact, babies born to malnourished mothers during these crises grew up avoiding high cholesterol problems.

It all points back to adults’ need to change their eating habits, writes Huxley. Studies in the U.S. show that dietary changes can bring high cholesterol down by 15 percent. Also, whether it takes drugs or dietary changes, studies show that making changes in midlife reduces the risks of heart disease and early death, she adds.

By Jeanie Lerche Davis, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCE: Huxley, R. Journal of the American Medical Association, Dec. 8, 2004; vol 292: pp 2755-2764.