Cholesterol and Heart Disease Risk: Statistics and Current Research

Cholesterol and Heart Disease

Most people know that cholesterol and heart disease are related. The problem is that most do not even know just how much they are related; specifically in what way they are related; and how new research has affected some of the old notions about high cholesterol and coronary risk. As the scientific community has made rapid advances in the fields of heart disease (likely due to the condition’s death chart topping ranking) our understanding about what we eat and how it ultimately plays a role in our long term heart health has become much more clear, as preconceived notions have been shattered and a new and more health conscious crowd has embraced the lifestyle changes necessary to promote coronary health.

Starting with the statistical implications first, the CDC explains that somewhere in the ballpark of 600,000 people perish each year as a result of heart disease (which unfortunately translates to about 25% of all deaths in the United States). While certain ethnic groups, age groups and even parts of the country may be more at risk for developing heart disease, the CDC points out that just about half (49%) of the United States population carries another lifestyle factor that can increase risk including a bad diet, alcoholism, being overweight (obese), diabetes or, being sedentary.

But aside from these risk factors, cholesterol and heart disease as well as smoking and high blood pressure are all very importantly intertwined. Specifically, its LDL cholesterol that is thought to be the problem child, and this is because the fatty and wax like substance has a tendency to affix itself to artery walls and cause buildups and blockages. Not only can this occurrence prevent blood from merrily making its way through arteries and vessels, over time a blockage can lead to heart attacks.

So, we know how cholesterol and heart disease are related, and we know what other causes may contribute to various types of heart disease. But, what about treating cholesterol in order to lower the risk of heart disease down the line? One of the most common methods for treating elevated cholesterol levels for men and women is the use of medications that are known as statin drugs. These medications work to reduce the amount of bad cholesterol that is produced in the liver, and as Harvard Health Publications points out, they are incredibly popular, with 50% of men between 65 and 74 and almost 40 percent of women over 75 using them. But, are they effective? While associated with oodles of side effects including muscle pain and fatigue, research points to statin drugs as a very useful method to lower bad cholesterol levels in a hurry, which can ultimately translate to their use in reducing coronary illness due to the relationship between bad cholesterol and heart disease.

Aside from high cholesterol medications, lifestyle factors (especially diet) are known to contribute both positively and negatively to cholesterol numbers, depending of course on which changes are being made. And, new research is shedding new light on previously shunned high cholesterol foods to avoid and getting to the root of how what we eat can impact our lipid levels. While the old school of thought centered around reducing foods high in cholesterol like shrimp, new studies and research point to a different culprit entirely, with bad fats like saturated fat creating quite a buzz around the cholesterol and heart disease equation. Wikipedia points out that the role of saturated fat in heart disease is still considered controversial, but major medication organizations attest that while cholesterol and heart disease are in fact related, saturated fat (a precursor to the development of high LDL levels) is also just as relevant. This has changed our perception somewhat even to the point that previously avoided foods like eggs, beef and shrimp have all become less feared and less vilified for their cholesterol content, while fried and fatty foods have become more of an important focal point thanks to new research.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the best supplements to lower cholesterol that occurs naturally – plant sterols and stanols – have been shown to be able to affect the chances of developing heart disease as well. While the relationship between cholesterol and heart disease is responsible for this in part (because then naturally occurring compounds can dramatically reduce LDL levels, what makes sterols and stanols unique is the fact that they are not known to interfere with cholesterol reducing medications, meaning that they can be a heart health ally in addition to other efforts, according to The Cleveland Clinic.

New research is proving that we may not currently have all the answers about heart disease and the way in which we ourselves and our family histories contribute to increasing the risk of the high statistic killer. However, what research we have done has proven that by eating healthy, staying active and reducing negative behaviors, we do have the power to reduce the risk of heart disease (and, be healthier overall as well).