Doctors have blamed high cholesterol for many, many heart attacks over the last 70 years or more.
This has lead to one in four North Americans over the age of 45 being prescribed statin drugs to lower their cholesterol levels.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what effect this has had on the rate of deaths due to heart disease.
In 1950, there were 589 age-adjusted deaths due to heart diseases per 100,000 people.
In the year 2000, there were only 258 age-adjusted deaths due to heart disease per 100,000 people.
Statin drugs work to lower cholesterol levels. These drugs were first introduced in 1987. Doctors prescribed statins for patients with high cholesterol levels in an attempt to lower their cholesterol levels.
It is important to note that deaths from heart disease were already declining fairly dramatically before statin drugs came onto the market.
Declining Heart Disease Factors
There are many factors that have contributed to the decline in deaths from heart disease.
One of these factors is the improved nutrition and health of mothers and babies in the 1920s and 1930s.
This resulted in babies having higher birth weights. This, in turn, lead to better overall health throughout their lives.
It may also have caused a possible reduction in the susceptibility of that generation to heart disease.
Rheumatic infections have long been known to cause heart disease.
The virtual eradication of some infectious diseases has also played an important role in reducing deaths due to heart disease.
The decline in smoking rates has also played a significant part.
Health Care Improvements
Probably the most important piece of this puzzle, however, is the great improvement in emergency and long-term care.
Medical science has learned a great deal about how to treat heart disease in the last seventy years.
This increased knowledge has resulted in far fewer deaths due to lack of knowledge and/or equipment.
Improved diet and exercise does not appear to have had much effect on the rates of death due to heart disease.
The population in general is far more obese now than it was in the 1950s, and yet far fewer people die from heart disease now than they did then.
This would indicate that obesity alone is less of a risk factor than is generally believed.
The introduction of statin drugs does not seem to have made any drastic changes to the rates of death by heart disease either.
Looking at a graph of the rates of deaths due to heart disease that encompasses the years from 1950 to 2014, you will not see a drastic change in the rates shortly after statins became widely used.
Instead, you see a gradual decline from a rate of 589 per 100,000 in 1950, to a rate of 167 per 100,000 in 2014.
The death rate does not show any sudden drop after 1987 that would coincide with the advent of statins.