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Drug Boosts 'Good' Cholesterol

The Food and Drug Administration has just approved one of the cholesterol-lowering drugs, Zocor, because it can also help increase HDL, or "good" cholesterol. CBS News Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports.

Cholesterol-lowering medications are some of the most commonly prescribed drugs in America, and have been shown to be helpful in the treatment of heart disease. Some of these medications are called statins, and may be recognizable by their brand names - Zocor, Mevacor and Lipitor, to mention a few. They lower LDL cholesterol, also known as "bad" cholesterol.

LDL, or 'bad' cholesterol, clogs arteries.

LDL is called bad cholesterol because it builds up in arteries and can eventually cause them to clog. But there's another kind of cholesterol called HDL or "good" cholesterol.

HDL acts like a magnet, picking up bad cholesterol from the arteries and carrying it back to the liver where it can be eliminated from the body.

Zocor, manufactured by Merck & Co., is the only statin drug approved to increase good cholesterol. The drug still would be given only to people with high levels of bad cholesterol, and would not be available for people who want to raise their HDL levels, if they already have normal cholesterol readings.

HDL, or 'good' cholesterol, sweeps the 'bad' cholesterol out to the liver, where it can be eliminated from the body.

Side effects of statins may include liver problems, and in extremely rare cases, they can cause muscle problems. However, statins have been found to be very safe overall.

Most of the early research on statins looked only at bad cholesterol because that is what doctors believed contributed most to heart disease. More recently, scientists have realized that HDL plays a big role as well. After testing how statins performed in relation to good cholesterol, researchers discovered the drugs' hidden benefit.

Experts say that more than half of the people who need the medicines are not on them. People with high LDL cholesterol levels may not feel sick, but they are at higher risk for heart disease. Lowering cholesterol begins with diet and exercise, but if that doesn't work, a consultation with a doctor about using statins may be an answer.

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