The class of cholesterol-reducing medicines called statins directly attack a major factor contributing to heart disease that kills one in four Americans every year.
About 80 percent of the body’s cholesterol is produced by the liver, and the rest comes from a diet containing meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products. Cholesterol is required for building cell membranes and the body uses it as a starting material to make hormones such as estrogen or testosterone. But too much of a good thing can be bad. More than 120 million Americans have unhealthy levels of cholesterol. Cholesterol is generally subdivided into two categories, LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol, also known as ‘bad cholesterol,’ tends to deposit on the walls of arteries and eventually causes a thickening and narrowing of the blood vessels, a process that leads to coronary heart disease. HDL cholesterol, however, reverses the deposits of LDL and therefore is known as ‘good cholesterol.’
Although many people are able to stabilize their cholesterol at healthy levels by exercising and following a diet low in LDL cholesterol, for others, the only practical option to make significant rapid progress is to use medication. The statins are a class of drug used successfully to reduce and reverse the impact of high LDL levels. These medicines reduce the amount of cholesterol synthesized in the liver by inhibiting the production of the enzyme that calls for the cholesterol synthesis. Sold under names such as Atorvastatin (Lipitor®), Simvastatin (Zocor®), and Lovastatin (Mevacor®), Lovastatin also occurs naturally in red yeast rice.
Considering that heart disease is the number one cause of death among both men and women in the United States, the impact of statins in lowering cholesterol has an enormous impact on the health and longevity of our population.
This topic was adapted from the technology milestones project of 2001 ACS President Attila Pavlath.