Statins linked with lower depression risk in heart patients

February 24, 2012
This is Mary Whooley, M.D. Credit: UCSF

Patients with heart disease who took cholesterol-lowering statins were significantly less likely to develop depression than those who did not, in a study by Mary Whooley, MD, a physician at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

The study was published electronically in the (February 21, 2012).

Whooley and her research team evaluated 965 for , and found that the patients who were on statins were significantly less likely to be clinically depressed than those who were not. They then followed the 776 patients who were not depressed – 520 who were using statins and 256 who were not – for an additional six years. Of those taking statins, 18.5 percent developed depression, compared with 28 percent of those not on the drugs. Put another way, the patients who took statins were 38 percent less likely to develop depression than patients who did not.

As the study went on, said Whooley, the difference between the two groups became more pronounced, with the patients on statins becoming less likely to develop depression and the patients not on statins becoming more likely to become depressed over time.

"This would suggest that statins may have some kind of long-term protective effect against depression, perhaps by helping to prevent atherosclerosis in the brain, which can contribute to depressive symptoms," Whooley said.

She also noted that statins have positive effects on the endothelium – the inner lining of the blood vessels – keeping blood vessels less rigid and therefore better able to adapt to the body's changing needs. "The exact mechanism is not known, however, and requires further study," she said.

Whooley cautioned that it is possible that patients who take statins "are just healthier overall than those who don't, and somehow we're not accounting for that in our analysis, even though we adjusted for factors such as smoking, physical activity and levels."

If statins are definitively proven to protect against depression, said Whooley, they could be used to reduce the burden of depressive symptoms in patients with heart disease and, by extension, improve cardiovascular outcomes in depressed patients. Whooley has shown in previous studies that heart disease patients with depression are less likely to exercise and take medication, thus increasing their risk for heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular events.

Statins are the most commonly-prescribed medication in the world, according to the study authors. "They are relatively safe, and generally well-tolerated," said Whooley.

Explore further: Study: Most at-risk patients don't adhere to statin treatment, despite real benefits

Related Stories

Study finds no link between statins and cancer risk

July 25, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reports that, contrary to previous studies, the use of cholesterol reducing statin drugs does not increase the risk of patients ...

Recommended for you

Study documents range of challenging meditation experiences

May 24, 2017

Meditation is increasingly being marketed as a treatment for conditions such as pain, depression, stress and addiction, and while many people achieve therapeutic goals, other meditators encounter a much broader range of experiences—sometimes ...

The surprising science of fidgeting

May 24, 2017

Hand-held toys known as "fidget spinners" – marketed as "stress relievers" – have become so popular and distracting in classrooms that they are now being banned in many schools. And it's not just kids who like to fidget. ...

How listening to music in a group influences depression

May 24, 2017

Listening to music together with others has many social benefits, including creating and strengthening interpersonal bonds. It has previously been shown that enjoying music in a group setting has an impact on social relationships, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.