Could a cholesterol lowering medication also protect the brain from Alzheimer’s disease? Researchers have been looking closely at the link between brain health and cholesterol in a new study involving nearly 400,000 subjects.
Learn more about the study and why some researchers are questioning the validity of its results.
Statins are a class of prescription drugs used to lower blood cholesterol levels. By lowering these levels, statins are thought to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Because previous studies have linked high cholesterol levels in later life to an increased risk for Alzheimer’s, researchers wondered if the cholesterol lowering statins could offer protection or prevention from the disease.
The study tracked nearly 400,000 statin users over the age of 65 who took the medication from 2006-2013. Study author Julie Zissimopoulos said, “We examine individuals who have been taking statins consistently for at least two years, between the years 2006 and 2008, and follow them for another five years to examine [the] onset of Alzheimer’s. We compare them to groups of individuals with low exposure that either took statins less consistently between 2006 and 2008, or started them later — after 2008.”
Findings from the study suggest that the Alzheimer’s protection benefits of statins are dependent on the type of statin and the ethnicity, gender and race of the person taking the statin. The study found that black men showed no benefit from taking any type of statin, while white women experienced a lower risk, no matter which statin was taken.
Overall, researchers found that a high use of statin could reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s by as much as 15% in women and by 12% in men with a low use of statins.
Zissimopoulos summarized the findings saying, “those with high exposure to statins had a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease compared to those with low exposure. And it varied by type of statin and for men, women and for different racial and ethnic individuals.”
Other researchers, not involved in the study, question its results, wondering if there were enough people in each ethnic group for a statistically reliable conclusion. Dr. Benjamin Wolozin from the Boston University School of Medicine believes that genetics may explain the differences between the groups represented in the study.
Dr. Eric Larson, expert in aging research and executive director of the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle, believes the differences between groups could be from patterns of care. He says, “Black men are likely to have more than just high cholesterol levels — [they may have] other conditions that increase risk and aren’t affected by statins.”
He continued saying, “People who have high levels of cholesterol and other conditions that predispose them to vascular diseases should definitely consider taking statins for their benefit in general, and can also feel like they are doing something for their risk for Alzheimer’s. But, I would not use the results of this study to guide choices of statins. Things like tolerability, cost and so forth may be more important for many people.”
Do you take statins to lower your cholesterol? If so, have you noticed them cutting your risk for Alzheimer’s? Share your experiences and stories with us in the comments below.
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