Harvard Health Letter

Are cholesterol lowering statins for everyone?

New guidelines are still controversial for older adults who don't appear to have heart disease.

The debate is still raging over last November's guidelines that changed who should take statins, the drugs that help lower cholesterol. For seemingly healthy adults, the guidelines take the focus off LDL or "bad" cholesterol as a marker for statin use, and place the focus on a person's risk factors for developing heart disease or stroke—such as older age, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, other family members with heart disease, tests that show calcium in the heart's arteries, or blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP). "That's a huge change," says cardiologist Dr. Christopher Cannon, a Harvard Medical School professor.

How it works

The new guidelines came from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. They were prompted by research, much of it from Harvard Medical School, that has reported additional heart benefits from statins besides lowering LDL cholesterol levels in the blood.

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