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Cholesterol

Cholesterol has been perceived as the villain in many heart attacks over the last 70 years or more, leading 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, and in 2000, there were only 258 age-adjusted deaths due to heart disease per 100,000 people. Statin drugs, which work to lower cholesterol levels, were first introduced in 1987, and were prescribed to patients with high cholesterol levels, but it is important to note that deaths from heart disease were already declining fairly dramatically before the advent of statin drugs on to the market. There are many factors that are believed to have contributed to the decline in deaths from heart disease, beginning with the improved nutrition and health of mothers and babies in the 1920s and 1930s. This resulted in babies having higher birthweights, leading to better overall health throughout their lives, and a possible reduction in the susceptibility of that generation to heart disease. The virtual eradication of some infectious diseases, and the drastic reduction of others, has also played an important role in reducing deaths due to heart disease, since rheumatic infections have long been known to cause heart disease. The decline in smoking rates would also have played a part. 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, and this has resulted in far fewer deaths due to lack of knowledge and/or equipment. One of the things that does not appear to have had much effect on the rates of death due to heart disease is improved diet and exercise. 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 either. Looking at a graph of the rates of deaths due to heart disease that encompasses the years from 1950 to 2014, you do 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.