American Cholesterol Levels Improving
October 17, 2012

American Adults Show Improvement In Cholesterol Levels

Peter Suciu for — Your Universe Online

There is often discussion about good cholesterol versus bad cholesterol, but now the bad cholesterol levels in American adults could be falling and that is certainly good news.

A new government study released on Tuesday reported that cholesterol levels have significantly improved over the past 20 years. The causes are likely from a decrease in the intake of trans-fats in diets, as well as the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs.

The study from the Journal of the American Medication Association, which included nationally representative data, seemed to indicate that between 1988 and 2012 there had been a trend of declining levels of total cholesterol. These included non-high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, as well as low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has maintained that high levels of total cholesterol and bad (LDL) cholesterol as well as low levels of good (HDL) cholesterol can increase the risk of coronary heart disease. Thus the reductions in cholesterol have contributed substantially to the overall decline in heart disease. The rate of death from cardiovascular disease declined by 31% from 1998 to 2008, but the disease has remained the leading cause of death in the United States.

“The favorable trends in TC, non-HDL-C, and LDL-C may be due in part to a decrease in consumption of trans-fatty acids or other healthy lifestyle changes, in addition to an increase in the percentage of adults taking lipid-lowering medications. They are unlikely to be the result of changes in physical activity, obesity, or intake of saturated fat,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers further noted that the intake of saturated fat as a percentage of calories did not decrease between 1999 and 2008; while little progress was also made from 1998 to 2008 in increasing leisure-time physical activity levels of adults; and the prevalence of obesity among adults remains high.

Currently obesity affects more than one-third of the population. The authors did note that, “although the percentage of adults receiving lipid-lowering medications continued to increase between 1999-2002 and 2007-2010, declining trends in TC, non-HDL-C, and LDL-C also occurred for adults not taking lipid-lowering medications.”

The JAMA findings noted that average total cholesterol dropped from 206 in 1988 to 196 in 2010, while in 1960 cholesterol levels were even higher at an average of 222. Bad cholesterol (LDL) fell, which is good news, as it declined from 129 in 1988 to 116 in 2010, while at the same time good cholesterol (HDL) increased from 51 to 53 in the same period.

During the same period, the percentage of adults taking cholesterol-lowering medications also increased from 3.4% to 15.%, suggesting that medication, as much as diet, was at work.

The AHA recommends that total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter of blood) to lower the risk of heart disease, and that having a bad cholesterol level below 100 is considered to be optimal. The good cholesterol of 60 mg/dL and above is also considered to be protective against heart disease.

Not all of the so called bad (LDL) comes from what people eat. This LDL is produced naturally by the body, and can be a genetic issue. But intake of saturated fats, trans-fats and dietary cholesterol also increased LDL.