About one in three Americans suffer from high cholesterol, and less than half of these adults receive any sort of treatment for their condition. Individuals suffering from high cholesterol have twice the chance of developing heart diseases. Cholesterol under 200mg/dL is considered healthy. There are certain medications that can help lower cholesterol and decrease the risk of serious medical and sometimes fatal diseases associated with high cholesterol.
What is Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a waxy substance present in all of the cells in the human body and is used to make hormones, vitamin D and chemicals that aid digestion. The body makes all the cholesterol it needs; however, the nutrient is also found in many foods. The compound works by traveling through the bloodstream in small groups called lipoproteins, which are made from fat and protein. The two types of lipoproteins used to transport cholesterol are low density lipoproteins (LDP) and high density lipoproteins (HDL). It's crucial for the human body to have a healthy balance of both of these types. Low density cholesterol is often referred to as bad cholesterol because a buildup of this compound can lead to clogged arteries. On the other hand, high density cholesterol is often called good cholesterol because it's used to carry the substance from other parts of the body to the liver, which then removes the cholesterol as waste.
High blood cholesterol is when there is too much cholesterol in the blood. People with a higher level of low density cholesterol have a greater chance of suffering from coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD is when plaque composed of cholesterol, fat, calcium and other substances builds up in the arteries. Over time, this plaque may harden and narrow the coronary arteries leading to a limited amount of oxygen rich blood reaching the heart. If this area ruptures, it will cause a blood clot and completely cut off blood flow. Plaque in the arteries can also cause angina or a heart attack.
There are many medications available to lower cholesterol, and about a hundred of these drugs are released each year. Most of these drugs work by lowering the levels of low density cholesterol and either increasing or decreasing high density cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The most common drugs recommended to treat high cholesterol are statins. Statins have been effective for most patients and reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Below is a list of common anticholesterol drugs and how they work.
-Statins such as Altoprev and Zocor decrease lower density cholesterol and triglycerides and slightly increase high density cholesterol.
-Bile acid binding resins like Welchol work by decreasing bad cholesterol.
-Cholesterol absorption inhibitors including Zetia decrease both low density cholesterol and triglycerides while slightly increasing good cholesterol.
-A combination of a cholesterol absorption inhibitor and statin drug such as Vytorin decreases low density cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing good cholesterol.
-Fibrates like TriCor decrease triglycerides and increase high density cholesterol.
-Niacin decreases bad cholesterol and triglycerides and increases good cholesterol. This drug is sometimes taken in combination with Statin.
-Omega 3 fatty acids like Lovaza decrease triglyceride levels.
Some critics worry about the safety of these drugs, and many believe that taking these medications could weaken cells in the body that don't receive sufficient cholesterol levels to survive. Some doctors have questioned whether these drugs are being over-consumed. Many also worry about forcing drugs on otherwise healthy individuals to prevent illnesses that they don't already have. Some have also questioned the effectiveness of these anticholesterol medications on mortality rates. Furthermore, some individuals believe these drugs do more harm than good when their side effects are taken into consideration.
People who are concerned about their cholesterol levels should consider making diet and lifestyle changes to improve their health. When this isn't enough, medications may also need to be used. It's best to speak with a physician regarding options for treatment of high cholesterol as soon as possible to avoid life threatening conditions such as a heart attack or stroke.
By Eszter Hazai, PhD Google+