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Americans' Cholesterol Levels Falling

Total Cholesterol Levels Slowly Lowering Among Older Adults, but Not in Younger People

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 11, 2005 -- Older Americans' cholesterol levels have declined significantly in recent years, but younger adults may not be faring as well in the battle against artery-clogging cholesterol.

A new study shows that average total cholesterol levels among men aged 60 to 74 years have decreased by 28 mg/dL from 232 mg/dL to 204 mg/dL between the early 1960s and early 1990s. Women aged 50 to 74 experienced an even greater decline of 40 mg/dL from 256 mg/dL to 216 mg/dL during the same time period.

From 1988 to 2002 the average level of LDL "bad" cholesterol also decreased significantly in the same older age groups of men and women.

Meanwhile, total and LDL cholesterol levels among younger men and women in their 20s have not changed as substantially.

Elevated total and LDL cholesterol, and low HDL "good" cholesterol levels are risk factors for hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and heart disease.

Researchers credit much of the decline in cholesterol levels among older adults to the increasing use of cholesterol-lowering drugs, such as statins. In the last decade there has been a dramatic increase in the number of cholesterol-lowering drugs prescribed among older adults, however recent dietary surveys show only a small change in the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol in Americans' diets.

Total Cholesterol Levels Get Lower

In the study, which appears in The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers compared cholesterol levels in several national surveys from 1960 to 2002.

The results showed that the average total cholesterol levels overall dropped from 222 mg/dL to 203 mg/dL among adults aged 20 to 74 from 1960 to 2002.

During this time period, significant declines in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels were achieved among both sexes and all age groups, except among adults aged 20 to 29.

Other findings of the study include:

  • HDL "good" cholesterol levels remained relatively unchanged among men and women from 1976-2002.
  • Women's declines in total cholesterol levels were consistently greater then men's throughout the study period.
  • The age-adjusted percentage of adults 20 years and over with total cholesterol 240 mg/dL and over decreased from 20% to 17% from 1988 to 2002.

Researchers say the continued lowering of total and LDL cholesterol levels in older adults is a positive trend. Recent studies suggest that a 1% decrease in LDL cholesterol translates into a 1% decrease in the relative risk for heart disease.

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Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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