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Statins for Alzheimer’s disease? Not so fast.

  • by
  • July 11, 2009
  • 11:24 pm
Statins for Alzheimer’s disease?  Not so fast.

How much research is necessary before you would take the leap and take a medication, “preventatively?”

Sometimes research studies that “break” in the news are ones that provide interesting, though not particularly useful results.  Single studies, often done with small numbers of patients, simply cannot answer a question about whether a specific treatment works or not.  When trying to answer questions about whether a certain treatment works better than another, or even if it works at all, pulling together the results of many different studies provides the best answers to important health questions.

One question that many people recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease ask is this: Should I be taking one of the statin drugs?  These drugs, an example of which is simvastatin (known by the brand name Zocor®), are approved in the United States for lowering the levels of blood cholesterol.  Hundreds of thousands of people take these medicines to treat or prevent heart disease, and there has been increasing interest in their use in preventing or treating Alzheimer’s disease.  Some studies have shown that statin drugs may help reduce inflammation and protect brain cells against the amyloid proteins that are widely believed to be involved in causing Alzheimer’s disease.  Other studies have shown conflicting results.

Researchers in the United Kingdom recently updated a report which pulls together the results of several studies that evaluated whether or not statin drugs, taken in late-life, can prevent Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.  The researchers reviewed results of several studies which included more than 26,000 patients.  The researchers found that while statin drugs did not seem harmful to mental abilities, the drugs did not significantly impact the number of cases of people who developed Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, nor did it slow progression of the disease upon diagnosis.  The researchers concluded that statin drugs given late in life show no effect in preventing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

This news could be viewed in a couple of different ways.  In one sense, there should be no expectation that taking a lipid-lowering statin drug will help slow or reverse the course of Alzheimer’s disease in someone who is suspected of or who has been diagnosed with the condition.  This should allow patients and their families to pursue other forms of treatment.  At the same time, there isn’t enough research available yet to know what the long-term effects of lipid-lowering drugs might be on the development of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias in people who start taking the drugs earlier in their lives.  Could these drugs prevent Alzheimer’s disease, if started early enough and in people at risk for developing the disorder?  This remains to be seen, but the potential for a relatively safe and low-cost way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease deserves more attention by scientists – and thankfully, work is underway in this area.

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6 comments

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7:06PM PDT on Jul 13, 2009

Science looks to drugs to solve every problem because they are profitable. They wouldn't make any money if you got more exercise, ate more vegetables, or counted to 10 before yelling at somebody. So they dupe us into giving them trillions of dollars to cure diseases we wouldn't even have without our current technological world. Believe it.

As average people, we should be looking to more effective and less harmful strategies, like leading a healthy lifestyle, which can prevent MOST diseases. Something as simple as taking things a little more lightly can reduce your impact of everything by strengthening your immune system. So everybody STOP it with all the pills, unless you are already afflicted with a life-threatening condition that has no natural treatment or cure.

4:36PM PDT on Jul 13, 2009

Frances says he'she takes Zocor with success. That's not the point in this discussion which deals with the potential for statins to aid in the treatment of Alzheimer's.I took Zocor for years and it controlled my cholesterol well. Then I developed, one of the less pleasant side effects....
excruciating muscle pains. Though touted as "rare", many thousands of people suffer from this...despite the efforts of drug companies and physicians to deny it. I finally took myself off the drug, and my muscles, though still painful seven months later, are returning to something like normal. Life in excruciating pain has little quality, and, like many internet posters, I'll take my chances with heart attack or stroke and try to combat high cholesterol by diet. Drug companies are trying routinely to bring the age of cholesterol testing down. After all, the more people they can get taking statins the greater will be their profits. In my books, and after my experiences, if there is no proof that statins help to prevent or cure Alzheimer's I wouldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole.

11:11AM PDT on Jul 13, 2009

I take Zocor with success

8:22AM PDT on Jul 13, 2009

For cholesterol related to diet alone I would not recommend statins because they work on liver function and there is a hazard of cholesteremic hepatitis. I have to be checked e very 4 months for liver function. I take zocor because I have familial or hereditary type hypercholesteremia. If the patient has familial types of lipid problems statins are indicated regardless of organic dementia because lipid control is important for preventing strokes, a very disagreeable complication of Alzheimer.

7:45AM PDT on Jul 13, 2009

Phsician heal thyself!
NOt the drug companies, how on earth can anyone tell if you are indeed going to get alzheimer's, so why would anyone take a medication for years not knowing how it is going react down the road.....
No one that I know!

5:39AM PDT on Jul 13, 2009

Would like you to know that statins are not always as safe as they (AMA) would have you believe - nor are they the be all and end all in the fight for heart health. My brother in law lost his memory at 54 due to statin use although no doctor will admit to this. It has been an uphill battle for 3 years, but he has slowly regained use of short term memory (he still does not remember past vacations, honeymoon, etc.)

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