Previous studies have suggested that statins cause cognitive problems, but now the most recent study of its kind has found no link between memory loss and the cholesterol-lowering drugs.
In fact, the six year-long study of more than 1,000 elderly patients found the drugs could even help protect at-risk patients – those with heart disease and diabetes – from dementia. The research was carried out by the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
“We carried out the most comprehensive analysis of cognition in elderly statin users to date, and found no results to support that cholesterol-lowering statins cause memory impairment,” lead author Katherine Samaras said.
“Many factors can contribute to the cognitive symptoms that isolated case reports describe. What we’ve come away with from this study is a reassurance for consumers to feel more confident about their statin prescription.”
Over six years, the researchers assessed changes in the brains of the elderly patients, measuring five areas of cognition using 13 different tests and MRI scans.
“Controlling for important and potentially contributory factors, such as age, sex and obesity, we found no difference in the rate by which memory and other aspects of cognition changed over time, between statin users and those who had never used the medication,” Samaras explained.
“There was also no difference in the change in brain volumes between the two groups.”
Samaras hopes the new findings will reassure patients using statins that it’s safe to take them.
“In this study our data reassuringly suggests that the use of statins to lower cholesterol levels is not likely to adversely affect memory function,” she said.
“Since it is an observational study, the findings should not be considered conclusive. However, the evidence is mounting that statins are safe in relation to brain health and this concern should not preclude their use in individuals who are likely to benefit from lower cholesterol levels.”
The effectiveness of statins has long divided the medical world. While some health professionals think it’s a great medication, others aren’t sure how beneficial to health the cholesterol-lowering drugs actually are.
The purpose of the medication is to lower levels of LDL cholesterol (known as ‘bad’ cholesterol) which can lower the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other health problems associated with cardiovascular disease.
Australian Integrative Cardiologist Jason Kaplan recently told Starts at 60 that despite studies out there, the benefits often outweigh the risks for many people who use statins.
“On a whole, we’ve had over 30 years of experience in using statins and for the most part, we see very little side effects on statins for the people who need them the most,” Kaplan explained. “That’s the key question here. The people who stand to benefit most from the cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins are the people who are in the higher risk categories.”
It’s always important to talk to a GP or health professional about using statins and to ensure the medication is right for individual needs.
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