Healthy Kids : Teens: Lighten Up to Protect Your Liver

By Kimberly Beauchamp, ND

Healthnotes Newswire (November 12, 2009)—A new study published in the Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition has found that some children at risk for metabolic syndrome are also at risk for liver disease.

People with three or more of these risk factors are considered to have a condition known as metabolic syndrome:

• High blood pressure

• High triglycerides

• Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol

• Abdominal obesity

• High fasting blood glucose

In addition to being at increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, adults with metabolic syndrome often develop a type of liver disease, which may lead to irreversible liver damage.

Up to 75% of obese adults have fatty liver disease, a kind that is different from alcohol-related liver damage. Since a definitive diagnosis of this type of disease requires a liver biopsy, levels of a liver enzyme are instead used as a marker for the disease.

In this study, more than 1,300 people participated as part of the National Health and Nutrition Study. It found:

• Higher body mass index (BMI) was associated with elevated enzyme levels in boys.

• Metabolic syndrome was strongly associated with elevated levels in non-Hispanic adolescent boys, regardless of their BMI.

• The association between the elevated enzyme and metabolic syndrome was not as strong for girls.

In other words, regarding the raised levels of the enzyme markers, “both overweight and metabolic syndrome were independently contributing,” the study’s authors commented.

Tips to sidestep metabolic syndrome

Like many modern diseases, prevention is key to avoiding metabolic syndrome and the diseases that can result from it. Parents: remember too that following these steps, not only protects your own health, but increases the chances your children will as well:

• Encourage exercise. Focus on getting yourself and your kids moving, balancing sedentary screen time with activity. Exercise increases heart-healthy HDL cholesterol levels, improves insulin activity in the body, and lowers blood pressure.

• Eat well. Emphasize fruits and veggies—the mainstay of every healthy lifestyle—in your daily meals. Limiting sugary foods helps lower triglyceride levels, and fresh vegetables provide the body with blood pressure-lowering nutrients and help keep weight in check.

• Don’t pick up the habit—or model it for your kids. Smoking is a major risk factor for a host of chronic diseases, heart disease and diabetes among them. Encourage children to keep their bodies healthy from the start by not smoking.

(JPGN 2009;49:442–9)

Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI, and now sees patients in East Greenwich and Wakefield. Inspired by her passion for healthful eating and her own young daughters, Dr. Beauchamp is currently writing a book about optimizing children’s health through better nutrition.

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