By Jean-Paul Salamanca ( | First Posted: Oct 17, 2012 04:33 PM EDT

A medical assistant uses a machine that measures cholesterol (Photo : Reuters)

Cholesterol levels in American adults are falling, possibly because more Americans are taking cholesterol-lowering medication, a new study finds.

A study released Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that between 1998 and 2010 "favorable trends" in the levels of lipids, or fats, have occurred among U.S. adults.

Margaret D. Carroll, MSPH, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and colleagues conducted a study examining trends in serum lipids in adults between 1988 and 2010, using three different U.S. cross-sectional National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys:--1988-1994, which had 16,573 participants), 1999-2002 (9,471 participants), and 2007-2010 (11,766 participants).

Included in the analysis were measurements of average levels of total cholesterol, LDL-C, HDL-C, non-HDL-C and geometric triglyceride. The researchers also examined the prevalence of lipid-lowering medication use

In the study, researchers found that the average total cholesterol for adults dropped from 206 milligrams/DL in 1988 to 196 milligrams/dL in 2010, while cardiovascular disease-related deaths dropped 31 percent in the same period.

Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, with one in every three deaths coming from heart disease and stroke-equaling an estimated 2,200 deaths daily, according to the center.

The drop in cholesterol levels were attributed by researchers as being due to more Americans taking statin, a medication that lowers cholesterol levels. As CBS News notes, only 3.4 percent of Americans were taking them in 1988, but that number quintupled to 15.5 percent over time.

Lipitor (atorvastatin), Lescol (fluvastatin), Pravachol (pravastatin), Crestor (rosuvastatin) and Zocor (simvastatin) are several examples of statin drugs.

"We are hopeful that some of the increased awareness about diet may be paying off, but we still have quite a long way to go," Dr. Ralph Sacco, president of the American Heart Association and chairman of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told HealthDay News.

A statement from the federal Food and Drug Administration posted on Medline Plus stated that statins are relatively safe for most people, but are not recommended for pregnant patients or those with active or chronic liver disease.

Statins can also cause serious muscle problems, and can also interact adversely with other drugs, the FDA warns.

The online version of the Journal of the American Medical Association can be found here.

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