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US Patients Show Lower Cholesterol Levels (June 21, 2012)

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, adults in the United States have lower cholesterol than they did ten years ago. In 2009 and 2010, about 13 percent of the US adult population had high blood cholesterol levels, as measured by Lipid Profile blood tests. That’s a drop of about 27 percent from tests performed in 1999 and 2000, when 18 percent of adult patients had high levels. This could be good news for heart health, since levels of more than 239 milligrams per deciliter can greatly increase a patient’s risk of heart attacks.

Why Cholesterol Levels Dropped

Researchers at the NCHS didn’t look at the reasons why cholesterol levels have gone down, but doctors who checked the results of the study suggest that healthier diets, anti-cholesterol drugs and greater awareness through periodic blood testing might be responsible. Previously, studies of people over the age of 65 showed that between 2001 and 2006, blood cholesterol levels dropped as the use of statins rose. Statins are a type of drug that lower serum cholesterol on patients. In 2010, statin prescription levels rose to about 255 million, up by almost 50 million. If you are using statins it is important to monitor the health of your liver as a side effect of statin use can be liver damage (Liver Function Test or a Statin Check-Up.)

Drugs aren’t wholly responsible for the improvement, of course. More people are eating diets that encourage heart health. They’re avoiding saturated and trans fats and focusing more on unsaturated fats from vegetable sources. Many patients are also consuming more fruits and vegetables. Despite the reduction in cholesterol levels, doctors aren’t sure whether the improvement will mean fewer heart problems overall. Even people with low levels of blood cholesterol need to maintain regular activity and eat a healthy diet to prevent cardiovascular health problems, especially as they age. 

Understanding Blood Cholesterol Levels

Humans have two major kinds of cholesterol in their blood. The first, LDL cholesterol, is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol. It can build up on the walls of blood vessels, eventually blocking them. This can result in a heart attack, high blood pressure and other problems. Lower LDL cholesterol numbers indicate a lower risk of cardiovascular problems, while high ones are associated with higher risk. LDL isn’t the only kind of cholesterol, however. People also have HDL, or “good,” cholesterol. Tests should ideally show high levels of this substance in the blood. That’s because this kind of cholesterol can pull LDL cholesterol out of a patient’s blood, preventing buildup on the inside of arteries. People with low HDL levels or high total cholesterol have a higher risk of getting heart disease, especially if those figures are associated with high LDL levels.

Reading the Cholesterol Statistics

Not all groups showed the same level of cholesterol reduction in the NCHS study. For instance, men between the ages of 40 and 59 showed a much greater improvement than women in the same age group. This may be because of the well known increase in LDL levels during menopause. Women of this age should take extra care to have their cholesterol levels checked, along with other heart disease risk factors. They aren’t alone in the need to monitor their health; blood tests can help identify a range of risks and allow patients to get the treatment they need. Regular testing could be the key to preventing serious problems later on.