Cholesterol levels fall in older Americans, study says

Older Americans have lowered their cholesterol levels thanks to popular statin drugs introduced in late 1980s, but adults of all ages have resisted making the healthy lifestyle changes that can cut the fat, a study said on Tuesday.

The decline in average blood cholesterol levels was observed between 1995 and 2002 among men 60 and older and women 50 and older but not among younger U.S. adults, according to the study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It appears that the decreases in total and (harmful low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol may have been influenced more by increased medication use rather than by positive lifestyle changes," study author Margaret Carroll wrote in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Among people aged 45 or older studied, there was an increase in the number of doctor and hospital visits where statins were prescribed.

Statins which include Pfizer Inc.'s $11 billion-a-year Lipitor, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Pravachol and Merck and Co. Inc.'s Zocor are commonly prescribed to lower dangerously high levels of low-density cholesterol in the blood.

This cholesterol is known to clog and damage arteries, leading to heart disease, reports Reuters.

Between 1960 and 2002, average total cholesterol levels for men and women ages 20 to 74 dropped from 222 milligrams per deciliter of blood to 203, mostly because of declines in people 50 and up. Among Americans ages 60 to 74, average levels fell from 232 to 204 in men (a 12 percent decline) and from 263 to 223 in women (down 15 percent). Below 200 is considered desirable for people at average risk for heart disease.

Also, in the study's final decade, the percentage of adults with high cholesterol reaching 240 fell from 20 percent to 17 percent, about eight years sooner than the government's goal of reaching the 17 percent mark by 2010, said study co-author Dr. James Cleeman, coordinator of the government's National Cholesterol Education Program.

At the same time, the portion of adults using cholesterol-lowering drugs, mostly statins, increased from 3.4 percent to 9.3 percent, with higher rates in the oldest Americans, informs the AP.


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