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Cholesterol By The Numbers

If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, you will probably be somewhat confused at first by all the numbers that are quoted at you, contained in reports, and scattered everywhere in research articles. It is generally believed that a normal cholesterol level is under 200 mg/dL. This means that there are less than 200 mg of cholesterol (about 0.007 ounces) in one deciliter (one tenth of a liter, or about 0.42 cups) of blood. A cholesterol count of between 200 and 239 mg/dL is considered borderline high, with anything over 240 mg/dL considered high. Now, that was the total cholesterol count. Your blood test results, though, will separate the cholesterol counts into two types of cholesterol – LDL, or bad cholesterol, and HDL, or good cholesterol. High levels (above 190 mg.dL) of LDL is considered very bad, while low levels (below 40 mg/dL) of HDL is considered very bad.
In North America, about 25% of adults over the age of 45 are taking statin drugs. Statistics show, however, that while statin drugs do lower cholesterol levels (by preventing your liver from making cholesterol) they do not appear to have a significant effect on the rate of heart disease. In terms of absolute risk, one person out of 100 taking statin drugs will have one less heart attack. The drug industry is adept at manipulating statistics, though, so they recommend that we look at “relative risk” which means that all of a sudden, statin drugs benefit 30 to 50% of the population. Statistics are amazing, aren’t they?
Another set of numbers that is very pertinent to the discussion of cholesterol levels are the profit margins of large pharmaceutical companies. Statins are the most widely prescribed drugs in medical history, and the profits from sales of the drugs are obscene. Total sales in 2010 topped $35 billion US. This explains why the drugs are still so widely prescribed, even though the rates of heart disease have not changed appreciably since statin drugs came on the market.