Statins May Not Curb Alzheimer's Risk

Debate Continues About Whether Cholesterol-Cutting Statin Drugs Help Ward Off Alzheimer's Disease

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on January 16, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 16, 2008 -- Taking statin drugs, which lower LDL "bad" cholesterol, may not make Alzheimer's disease less likely after all.

But that news probably isn't the last word on statins and Alzheimer's prevention, which has been a hot topic in Alzheimer's research in recent years.

Here's a quick recap of previous studies on the topic. Some show that Alzheimer's disease is rarer in people who take statins. But not so in other studies. Statins aren't made to curb Alzheimer's disease, and they're not prescribed for Alzheimer's prevention.

The latest report, published online today in Neurology, sides with studies showing no connection between statin use and avoiding Alzheimer's disease. But the findings have some fine print.

Tracking Alzheimer's and Statins

The study included 929 U.S. Catholic nuns, priests, and brothers enrolled in the Religious Orders Study, which tracked new cases of Alzheimer's disease among the group.

When the study started, participants were 75 years old on average and didn't have Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia. Few of them -- 13% -- were taking statins.

Participants got checkups and took mental skills tests every year for up to 12 years. During that time, 191 of them developed Alzheimer's disease.

Taking statin drugs didn't affect the odds of getting Alzheimer's disease or milder mental decline. Also, statins didn't affect Alzheimer's-related brain plaque, according to autopsies conducted on participants who died during the study.

The study's strengths include its long, detailed look at Alzheimer's disease. But it also has limits, note the Rush University researchers, who included Zoe Arvanitakis, MD, MS.

With few statin users, it may have been hard to spot any protective effects from statins. And it's not clear if the results apply to other groups of people.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Arvanitakis, Z. Neurology, Jan. 16, 2008; advance online edition. WebMD Medical News: "Statins May Cut Alzheimer's Disease." WebMD Medical News: "Statins May Not Fight Dementia." News release, American Academy of Neurology.

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