Statin medications may prevent dementia and memory loss with longer use

October 1, 2013, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

A review of dozens of studies on the use of statin medications to prevent heart attacks shows that the commonly prescribed drugs pose no threat to short-term memory, and that they may even protect against dementia when taken for more than one year. The Johns Hopkins researchers who conducted the systematic review say the results should offer more clarity and reassurance to patients and the doctors who prescribe the statin medications.

The question of whether statins can cause cognition problems has become a hot topic among cardiologists and their following changes on the drug labels ordered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in February 2012, warning about memory problems with short-term statin use.

However, in their extensive review, the Johns Hopkins researchers found that statins do not affect short-term memory or cognition. In contrast, they say that when the drugs are taken for more than one year, the risk of is reduced by 29 percent. Their findings are published in an online article in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings posted on October 1, 2013.

"All medications, including statins, may cause side effects, and many patients take multiple medicines that could theoretically interact with each other and cause cognitive problems," says Kristopher Swiger, M.D., a primary author of the study. "However, our and meta-analysis of existing data found no connection between short-term statin use and memory loss or other types of cognitive dysfunction. In fact, longer-term statin use was associated with protection from dementia."

For their study, the Johns Hopkins researchers conducted two different analyses involving a total of 41 different studies, which they narrowed down to 16 that had the most relevance. The first analysis looked at the impact of short-term statin use and cognitive function including memory, attention and problem-solving. For that analysis, they included studies that used a standard, objective measurement tool known as the Digit Symbol Substitution Test. The other assessment focused on studies in which participants took statins for more than one year to see if there was any correlation with a later diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease or .

"Our goal was to provide clarity on this issue based on the best available evidence," according to Raoul Manalac, M.D., a co-primary author of the study. "We looked at high-quality, randomized controlled trials and prospective studies that included more than 23,000 men and women with no prior history of . The participants in those studies were followed for up to 25 years."

Statins reduce cholesterol levels in the blood, particularly low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is known as the "bad" form of cholesterol that can build up as plaque inside . The drugs have been shown to reduce coronary artery disease and stroke among those at high risk as well as for those who have already been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease following a heart attack or stroke. Statins have also been shown to reduce the amount of inflammation within blood vessels and prevent the risk of blood clots.

"Because of their effect on arteries to reduce or stabilize plaque, and prevent strokes, it makes sense that statins could be protective in the brain against dementia," according to senior author Seth Martin, M.D., a Pollin Cardiovascular Prevention Fellow with the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease and the study's senior author.

"Vascular dementia is caused by blockages in small blood vessels in the brain that prevent blood flow to certain areas. Medications such as that reduce plaque and inflammation in coronary arteries may also be having the same effect on blood vessels in the brain," says Martin.

Roger Blumenthal, M.D., the Kenneth Jay Pollin Professor of Cardiology and director of the Ciccarone Center, says the findings will be reassuring to many patients. "Statins can be lifesaving medications for high-risk individuals," says Blumenthal, "but many of our patients became concerned about taking the drugs after the FDA created labeling changes last year. This very robust analysis of the best data available should allay those concerns."

Explore further: High dose statins prevent dementia

Related Stories

High dose statins prevent dementia

September 1, 2013
High doses of statins prevent dementia in older people, according to research presented at the ESC Congress today by Dr. Tin-Tse Lin from Taiwan. The study of nearly 58,000 patients found that high potency statins had the ...

Statins being overprescribed for growing number of kidney disease patients

September 10, 2013
A new analysis concludes that large numbers of patients in advanced stages of kidney disease are inappropriately being prescribed statins to lower their cholesterol – drugs that offer them no benefit and may increase other ...

Statins linked to raised risk of cataracts in study

September 19, 2013
(HealthDay)—The statin medications that millions of adults take to lower their cholesterol levels may also raise their risk of developing cataracts, a new study suggests.

Should everyone over 65 take a statin?

August 28, 2013
(HealthDay)—Men and women over 65 who are at risk for cardiovascular disease but don't have any known heart problems might benefit from cholesterol-lowering drugs, a new study suggests.

Study finds link between commonly prescribed statin and memory impairment

September 25, 2013
New research that looked at whether two commonly prescribed statin medicines, used to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or 'bad cholesterol' levels in the blood, can adversely affect cognitive function has found that one ...

Most statin-intolerant patients can eventually tolerate statins

September 9, 2013
Most patients who report statin intolerance, including muscle aches and other side effects from the cholesterol-lowering drugs, can actually tolerate drugs from this class on subsequent trials, according to research from ...

Recommended for you

Probiotic use may reduce antibiotic prescriptions, researchers say

September 14, 2018
Use of probiotics is linked to reduced need for antibiotic treatment in infants and children, according to a review of studies that probed the benefits of probiotics, say researchers in the U.S., England and the Netherlands.

Recalled blood pressure drugs not linked to increased short term cancer risk

September 12, 2018
Products containing the withdrawn blood pressure drug valsartan are not associated with a markedly increased short term risk of cancer, finds an expedited analysis published by The BMJ today.

Sugar pills relieve pain for chronic pain patients

September 12, 2018
Someday doctors may prescribe sugar pills for certain chronic pain patients based on their brain anatomy and psychology. And the pills will reduce their pain as effectively as any powerful drug on the market, according to ...

A new approach for finding Alzheimer's treatments

September 11, 2018
Considering what little progress has been made finding drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease, Maikel Rheinstädter decided to come at the problem from a totally different angle—perhaps the solution lay not with the peptide ...

One in four older adults prescribed a benzodiazepine goes on to risky long-term use

September 10, 2018
They may start as well-intentioned efforts to calm anxiety, improve sleep or ease depression. But prescriptions for sedatives known as benzodiazepines may lead to long-term use among one in four older adults who receive them, ...

Clinical need absent, unclear in nearly 30 percent of outpatient opioid prescriptions

September 10, 2018
Nearly 30 percent of outpatient opioid prescriptions in the United States lack documented clinical reasons that justify the use of these potent drugs, according to a national analysis of physician visit records conducted ...

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.