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BMJ. Feb 5, 1994; 308(6925): 367–372.
PMCID: PMC2539460

By how much and how quickly does reduction in serum cholesterol concentration lower risk of ischaemic heart disease?


OBJECTIVE--To estimate by how much and how quickly a given reduction in serum cholesterol concentration will reduce the risk of ischaemic heart disease. DESIGN--Data on the incidence of ischaemic heart disease and serum cholesterol concentration were analysed from 10 prospective (cohort) studies, three international studies in different communities, and 28 randomised controlled trials (with mortality data analysed according to allocated treatment to ensure the avoidance of bias). MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE--Decrease in incidence of ischaemic heart disease or mortality for a 0.6 mmol/l (about 10%) decrease in serum cholesterol concentration. RESULTS--For men results from the cohort studies showed that a decrease of serum cholesterol concentration of 0.6 mmol/l (about 10%) was associated with a decrease in incidence of ischaemic heart disease of 54% at age 40 years, 39% at age 50, 27% at 60, 20% at 70, and 19% at 80. The combined estimate from the three international studies (for ages 55-64 years) was 38% (95% confidence interval 33% to 42%), somewhat greater than the cohort study estimate of 27%. The reductions in incidence of ischaemic heart disease in the randomised trials (for ages 55-64 years) were 7% (0 to 14%) in the first two years, 22% (15% to 28%) from 2.1-5 years, and 25% (15% to 35%) after five years, the last estimate being close to the estimate of 27% for the long term reduction from the cohort studies. The data for women are limited but indicate a similar effect. CONCLUSIONS--The results from the cohort studies, international comparisons, and clinical trials are remarkably consistent. The cohort studies, based on half a million men and 18,000 ischaemic heart disease events, estimate that a long term reduction in serum cholesterol concentration of 0.6 mmol/l (10%), which can be achieved by moderate dietary change, lowers the risk of ischaemic heart disease by 50% at age 40, falling to 20% at age 70. The randomised trials, based on 45,000 men and 4000 ischaemic heart disease events show that the full effect of the reduction in risk is achieved by five years.

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