Heart Beat: Good news about cholesterol

Heart Beat

Good news about cholesterol

Cholesterol levels for the mythical average American continue to inch downward. In 1960, the average total cholesterol level in adults was 222 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). In 2002, the last year with complete data, it stood at 203 mg/dL. The average LDL (bad) cholesterol has also declined, from 138 mg/dL in 1976 to 123 in 2002. HDL (good) cholesterol hardly budged from around 50 mg/dL.

The 15-point decline in LDL may not sound like much, but it corresponds to a 10% drop in the risk of heart disease. Apply that to a large population and it represents a substantial amount of heart disease prevented, or at least put off.

It would be great to report that the changes in total and LDL cholesterol were due to healthier eating, more exercise, and other positive lifestyle changes. They probably aren't. The reason is probably the increasing use of cholesterol-lowering statins. A study by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows that statin use more than doubled between 1997 and 2002, with at least 11 million people covered by Medicare now taking one of these drugs.

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