Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Could Dramatically Cut Dementia Risk

By Eliza Strickland | July 29, 2008 9:25 am

medications pills stethoscopeThe cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins are already one of the most commonly prescribed medications, taken by 15 million Americans in an attempt to ward off heart disease. Now, a new study suggests that the drugs may also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia by 50 percent.

While the provocative finding offers hope that the cholesterol-reducing drugs might help against Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, scientists say this study is unlikely to be the last word on the topic. Indeed, it may just fuel an already lively debate over statins’ potential effect on dementia. Some research has hinted at benefits, while other studies, particularly in people with clear signs of Alzheimer’s disease, show no effect from the drugs [Science News].

In the study, published in the journal Neurology [subscription required], researchers tracked 1,674 elderly Mexican Americans for five years, all of whom were dementia-free at the start of the study…. After adjusting for factors like education, smoking status and genetic pre-disposition, statin users were found to have a 50% lower risk of developing dementia than those not taking the drugs [Newsweek].

Researchers say they’re not yet sure how to explain the benefit seen in the study. One possibility is that reducing artery-clogging cholesterol helps not just the heart, but also the brain. It is thought that a poor supply of blood to the brain may be one factor which promotes the development of dementia. Therefore, if statins help keep the blood vessels healthy, and blood flowing freely to the brain, they may help protect against the disease [BBC News]. Another theory is that lower cholesterol levels reduce levels of a protein called beta-amyloid that forms plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

Image: iStockphoto 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain
  • Andrew

    I get the use of the gold color to differentiate the linkable content, but why does it seem as though your sentences rotate on a blue/black scheme? This article may be about dementia but hopefully I am not losing my mind.

    Cheers,
    Andrew Adler
    Washington, DC

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    Nothing wrong with your neurons! But here’s the explanation, from the “About 80beats” blurb in the sidebar:

    80beats is DISCOVER’s news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles on the day’s most compelling topics.

    The posts are journalistic mashups, with quoted text in blue and the source of the quoted material identified in brackets—with a link, of course.

  • Doris

    There is so much we can do to keep our brains well. Cholesterol is just one aspect. Read “7 Steps to a Healthy Brain” by Dr. Paul Winner.

  • eml256

    Recent media release: “Statins may Spur Dementia: (excerpt below)http://www.newsmax.com/health/statins_spur_dementia/2008/07/25/116234.html

    {…Experimentation with cultures of human brain cells revealed that under the influence of statin drugs, the glial progenitor cells turned mostly into a type of cell called an ?oligodendrocyte.? The bottom line is that statins push progenitor cells into developing into a type of cell which the brain may not need, and it may push the progenitor cells to develop prematurely when they should in fact be held in reserve in case of trauma such as a blow to the head, a stroke, or inflammation within the brain. In effect, statins deplete the availability of progenitor cells unnecessarily for no good reason.

    It has yet to be determined whether statins actually boost the rate of dementia, although some physicians already believe they do. Until more research can be performed, what course should doctors and patients take? According to Goldman, ?There are a great number of questions that need to be explored further before anyone considers changing the way statins are used.? …}

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