Expectant mothers who smoke while pregnant raise the risk for their children to suffer from heart disease later in life. Australian researchers have discovered that children who are born to mothers who continued to smoke during pregnancy have decreased levels of good (HDL) cholesterol, which may put them at greater risk for heart attack and stroke in adulthood. The study details were recently published in the European Heart Journal.
The results of the study indicated that by the time children born to smokers reach the age of eight years, their HDL cholesterol levels were an average of 1.3 millimoles per liter (mmol/L), which is lower than the average of 1.5 mmol/L found among children born to mothers who did not smoke during pregnancy. This calculates to an HDL level that is nearly10 percent below normal for children born to mothers who smoke.
In a news release, lead study author David Celermajer, a professor of cardiology at the University of Sydney, stated, “Our results suggest that maternal smoking ‘imprints’ an unhealthy set of characteristics on children while they are developing in the womb, which may well predispose them to later heart attack and stroke. This imprinting seems to last for at least eight years and probably a lot longer.”
Although the exact reason why smoking during pregnancy decreases HDL levels of offspring remains unclear, Celermajer said that the risk for heart disease in these children could be as much as 10 to 15 percent higher. He further explained, “Cholesterol levels tend to track from childhood to adulthood, and studies have shown that for every 0.025mmol/L increase in HDL levels, there is an approximately 2.0 to 3.0 percent reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease.”
The study involved 405 healthy 8-year-olds who were born between 1997 and 1999. Prior to their birth, the children had been enrolled by their parents into a randomized controlled trial that focused on asthma and allergic diseases.