The prevalence of people age 20 years and older with high levels of LDL decreased by about one-third from 1999 to 2006. Specifically, a CDC study determined that overall prevalence for high LDL cholesterol levels fell from 31.5% in 1999-2000 to 21.2% in 2005-2006 (JAMA. 2009;302:2104-2110).

Investigators analyzed cholesterol data from four consecutive two-year periods among 7,044 people participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Cholesterol screening rates remained unchanged (<70%) throughout. Researchers suggest that the goal of improving screening rates may be hindered by a lack of consensus regarding the age at which screening should start. (An accompanying editorial [JAMA. 2009;320:2148-2149] contends that current guidelines for identifying and treating patients with dyslipidemia are overly complicated.)Although the authors point to limitations that may have led to underestimation of the national prevalence of high LDL levels, they call the decrease “striking.” Investigators also note that they could not pinpoint the cause of the decline, but did find that self-reported use of lipid-lowering medications (i.e., statins) increased significantly by the end of the study period.

Other published reports point to several potential, noncardiac health benefits of controlled cholesterol and/or statins:

  • An 18-year project involving 29,093 men in the Alpha-Tocopheral, Beta-Carotene  Cancer Prevention Study showed that higher levels of HDL seem to be protective for all cancers (Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2009;18:2814-2821).
  • Research supports the finding that men with low cholesterol have a reduced risk of high-grade prostate cancer (Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2009;18:2807-2813).
  • Statins can prevent the growth of cancer cells and help treat diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurologic disorders (Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009;106:18285-18290).
  • It was shown that simvastatin may help prevent the progression of Parkinson’s disease ( J Neurosci. 2009;29:13543-13556).
  • A Swiss research team found that people who took statins for more than one year had a reduced risk of developing gallstones that required surgery ( JAMA. 2009;302:2001-2007).