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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Statin Drugs May Cut Dementia Risk

Study Shows Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs May Help Protect Against Dementia
WebMD Health News

July 14, 2009 (Vienna, Austria) -- The popular cholesterol-lowering statin drugs taken by millions to help prevent heart attacks and strokes may also protect against the development of dementia.

In a study of more than 17,000 people 60 and older, use of statin drugs appeared to cut the risk of developing dementia by more than half.

The study does not prove that statins prevent cognitive decline, and no one should start taking them as a dementia preventive, doctors stress. But the findings are compelling enough to justify further study, says Alina Solomon, MD, a researcher in the department of neurology at the University of Kuopio in Finland.

The study was presented at the Alzheimer's Association 2009 International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease.

Other studies have had conflicting results on the ability of statins to protect against memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease, but this study is one of the largest to date. The trial included Finnish people enrolled in a larger, ongoing study examining risk factors for heart disease and stroke.

The current analysis involved 17,257 participants 60 and older who had not been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer's disease in 1995. Over the next 12 years, 1,551 of them were diagnosed with dementia. Of those, 281, or 18%, had taken statins for at least one year prior to the diagnosis.

One advantage of the current study is that data about statin use was obtained from a drug reimbursement registry, Solomon tells WebMD. Some of the previous trials relied on patients to self-report use of cholesterol-lowering drugs, which can be especially problematic when working with people with dementia, she explains.

After adjusting for risk factors for dementia, including age, sex, education level, place of residence, body mass index, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, the researchers found that people who took statin drugs were 58% less likely to develop dementia than those who did not.

Statins and Insulin Levels in Brain

Statins help protect against heart attacks and strokes by lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or "bad" cholesterol. But since the current analysis was adjusted for participants' cholesterol levels, that action alone does not fully explain statins' apparent punch against dementia, Solomon says.

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