Statin drugs may protect against dementia

Study finds popular cholesterol-lowering medication has no link to memory loss

Statins are one of the most commonly prescribed classes of drugs. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Statins are one of the most commonly prescribed classes of drugs. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto


Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs pose no threat to short-term memory and may protect against dementia if used over a long period, according to a review of research evidence.

Scientists who pooled data from 16 robust studies found that taking statins for more than a year cut the risk of dementia by 29 per cent.

Questions about the drugs’ effects on the brain last year led the US Food and Drug Administration to order new medicine labels warning of possible memory problems linked to statins.

But the new findings suggest such fears are not justified, and statins may actually help to safeguard the brain.

Dr Kristopher Swiger, from Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, US, said: “All medications, including statins, may cause side effects, and many patients take multiple medicines that could theoretically interact with each other and cause cognitive problems.

“However, our systematic review and meta-analysis of existing data found no connection between short-term statin use and memory loss or other types of cognitive dysfunction. In fact, longer-term statin use was associated with protection from dementia.”

The researchers conducted two different analyses. One looked at the impact of short term statin use on brain function, while the other examined how taking the drugs long term related to Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia.

The findings are published online in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Co-author Dr Raoul Manalac, also from Johns Hopkins Medicine, said: “Our goal was to provide clarity on this issue based on the best available evidence.

“We looked at high-quality, randomised controlled trials and prospective studies that included more than 23,000 men and women with no prior history of cognitive problems. The participants in those studies were followed for up to 25 years.”

Statins lower levels of “bad” cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the blood.

LDL contributes to the build up of plaque deposits that narrow blood vessels in the brain as well as the heart.The drugs have been shown to reduce inflammation within blood vessels and the risk of stroke-inducing blood clots. - Press Association