Cholesterol Lowering Drugs May Prevent Dementia

Pills spilling out of a bottleStatins, a class of drugs used to lower cholesterol in people at risk of heart disease, may also be effective in preventing Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias according to a new report published in the July 29 edition of the peer-reviewed medical journal Neurology.

The research comes out of the University of Michigan and involved the study of 1,674 elderly Mexican-Americans from Sacramento, California. At the beginning of the 5-year study none of the participants showed signs of dementia or cognitive impairment. A total of 130 participants had developed dementia or impaired cognitive ability by the end of the study while 452 (27%) of the participants had taken statins during the study period.

After adjusting the results for risk factors such as a history of a stroke or diabetes, smoking, and years of education, the researchers found that the participants who took statins had an impressive 48% reduction in the probability of developing dementia or cognitive impairment compared to the participants who did not take statins.

The study comes on the back of recent studies that have found that statins taken after the onset of dementia have little effect on the progression of the disease. According to lead researcher Mary Haan of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Michigan, while statins may not slow the progression of dementia, they may be effective as a preventative measure against the disease.

Statins work by increasing the production of LDL-receptors in the body which leads to a direct reduction in LDL cholesterol levels. It is thought that high cholesterol levels in the blood, and diets containing large amounts of cholesterol trigger an inflammatory response in the body that can cause oxidative stress in the brain leading to an increased risk of dementia. Scientific studies attempting to link cholesterol to dementia have produced conflicting results however with some studies finding no link at all between the two. It is possible that statins reduce dementia risk through some unknown mechanism that is unrelated to statins cholesterol lowering abilities.