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Cholesterol levels dropping, still problematic

The good news is that national cholesterol levels have dropped over the last four decades. The bad news is that they still represent a “significant public health problem,” according to the National Center for Health Statistics, a branch of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

KPCC Public Radio out of California says the NCHS report specifically refers to low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which health providers often refer to as “bad cholesterol.” High-density lipoprotein (HPL) cholesterol, or “good cholesterol,” appears to protect people against heart attacks.

But when too much LDL cholesterol circulates through the bloodstream, it can build up on the walls of the arteries, which carry blood to the brain and the heart. There, it can form plaque, which can cause blood clots that lead to strokes or heart attacks.

Some medications meant to lower LDL cholesterol carry risks of their own. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has added warnings to the labels of Pfizer’s Lipitor and other types of statins, advising that they may increase blood sugar levels, which could cause diabetes.

The KPCC report says the prevalence of high LDL cholesterol has dropped from 59 to 27 percent over the past four decades.

CDC authors attributed the change in large part to changing dietary habits among Americans. Between the 1970s and 1994, the report says, the percentage of adults eating a diet low in saturated fats increased from 25 percent to 41 percent – although it has plateaued since then.

Saturated fats are a major source of cholesterol.

Patients should consult their doctors before making any changes in their medication. A consultation with a Lipitor lawyer is also important if there are significant injuries.

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