Statins Protect Hearts and Brains

Statin drugs are used to lower cholesterol and are among the most beneficial medications ever developed.  They prolong life by preventing stroke and heart attack and in general, they are also extremely safe. 

There has been concern (primarily created by folks trying to sell supplements or books) that statin drugs (such as Lipitor, Crestor and Zocor) cause memory impairment. While there's never been any real data to suggest this is the case, a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society provides additional reassurance.

Research volunteers were tested at baseline and then an additional four times over the subsequent few years. The study included both patients with normal cognitive (brain) function as well as those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) which is considered by many to be an early form of Alzheimer's Disease. The subjects were given neuropsychological tests at each evaluation.

Among participants who began with normal cognitive function at baseline, statin users performed significantly better in attention tests and had significantly slower annual worsening in dementia rating cores and slower worsening in Mini-Mental State Examination scores than nonusers (the statin medications helped preserve brain function over time).

For participants with mild cognitive impairment  statin users performed significantly better across all visits on attention measures, verbal skills and executive functioning and statin use did not affect the rate of cognitive decline.

Prior prospective observational studies have mostly found a significantly lower risk of dementia or Alzheimer's disease (AD) in statin users. This study involving over 5,000 adults provides additional reassurance that statins do not cause or worsen memory or other cognitive problems and in fact are likely protective against them.

Steenland K, Zhao L, Goldstein F, Levey A.  Statins and Cognitive Decline in Over Adults With Normal Cognition or Mild Cognitive Impairment.  J Am Geriatr Soc. 2013;61(9):1449-1455. 

Reviewed / Posted by: Scott W. Yates, MD, MBA, MS, FACP

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