Statins are the most commonly prescribed medications used to lower cholesterol in the United States. In addition to their cholesterol-lowering properties, scientists have also been aware that they possess other benefits, such as reducing inflammation and reducing the risk of heart disease. Now, another benefit may be added to the list of taking statins: prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
Although there have been a lot of studies investigating the link between statins and the reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease, a new study published in the August 28, 2007 issue of Neurology appears to confirm what scientists have been suspecting all along: Statins may help prevent or lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
The Latest Study on Alzheimer’s and StatinsThis new study, led by Dr. Gail Ge Li, a researcher at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, Washington, is instrumental because Li and his team looked at the actual brains of deceased patients. Other studies have only compared the difference in Alzheimer’s progression in those who took statins and those who did not while they were living.
Approximately 110 brains were looked at upon autopsy. The patients who donated their brains were less than 80 years of age at the time they signed up for the study, cognitively sound at the time of donation and may or may not have been taking statin drugs. The investigators of this study scanned each of the brains to determine the amount of neurofibrillary tangles and plaques present in the brain. The presence of plaques and tangles in the brain are strongly associated with Alzheimer’s disease. They found that the individuals taking statins had significantly less plaques and tangles than those who did not take statins. In other words, the patients who took statins had a significantly reduced rate of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Does This Mean That Statins Need To Be Taken To Reduce Alzheimer’s?Although this study appears promising, you shouldn't run to your health care provider for a statin prescription just yet. More studies will be needed to confirm this finding. For instance, in order for this study to be confirmed, it would need to be randomized. That is, certain individuals would be selected to take statins and others would be restricted from taking statins. This would be difficult to do, since our risk for developing heart disease and high cholesterol may increase as we age, thus requiring a statin in the future.
Also, the age of the patient, as well as other health conditions the patient has, may have something to do with the effectiveness of statin drugs in possibly treating or slowing the progression of Alzheimer's disease in the future. All of these things would need to be addressed before statins would be recommended for reducing the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
Sources: Li G, Larson EB, Sonnen JA et al. Statin therapy is associated with reduced neuropathologic changes of Alzheimer disease. Neurology 69(9): 878-885.