Cholesterol at Birth Could Predict Later Psychological Health, Study Finds

The amount of "good" or "bad" cholesterol contained in a baby's blood at birth may predict their psychological development as toddlers, a new study found.

The study, published in Psychological Science on November 11, was conducted by researchers Dr. Erika M. Manczak of the University of Denver and Dr. Ian Gotlib of Stanford University. It was based on an analysis of 1,369 British children belonging to the Born in Bradford birth cohort, a study cohort consisting of 500,000 people born in Bradford, England, the sixth-largest city in the United Kingdom.

To begin, the researchers looked at the results of a standard blood test drawn just after the babies' birth. The test measured their lipid profiles, which are "a measurement of the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood," according to a news release from the Association for Psychological Science.

The researchers cross-referenced these blood tests with data derived from interviews with the children's teachers when the children were between four and five years old. The teachers were asked to rate each of the children on their psychological development, which included their "self-confidence, emotional control, and interpersonal relationships."

A correlation emerged between the amount of "good" or "bad" cholesterol in the children's lipid profiles at birth and their later psychological development, as evaluated by their teachers.

Children who had shown higher levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL)—often cited as the "good" kind of cholesterol because it is believed to remove fat from artery walls—in their blood as newborns were significantly more likely to be judged psychologically competent by their teachers. On the other hand, children whose blood had tested higher for "bad" LDL cholesterol were more likely to have receive lower ratings on their development from their teachers.

According to the summary of the study, the racial and ethnic backgrounds of the children did not impact the correlation observed in the data. The group used for the analysis was fairly diverse. The study read that 51.1 percent of the babies' mothers were British women with Pakistani roots, 37.9 percent were white Britons and 11 percent came from other backgrounds.

The researchers acknowledged that the findings were not conclusive, and that more research would have to be done to establish with certainty that cholesterol at birth influences later psychological well-being.

"If this is replicated in other studies, it would suggest that lipid profiles at birth could play a role in identifying children who might be at heightened risk for psychological problems later, allowing health care providers to intervene early," Manczak said in the news release. "It also introduces the possibility that lipids may be a new mechanism to consider when trying to understand what causes mental health problems."

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