TUESDAY, Oct. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Here's some good, if
preliminary, news for the millions of people who take statin drugs
to lower their cholesterol: A new review of existing research finds
no evidence that the medications pose a risk to brainpower.
Instead, the review suggests that statins may actually lower the
risk of dementia, although the researchers say that's not
The findings, which contradict a warning label required by the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), aren't conclusive. And a
physician who specializes in blood vessel disorders said it remains
wise for doctors to take patients off the drugs or switch them if
there are signs of cognitive (or "thinking") problems.
Still, the new findings are "very reassuring," said study
co-author Dr. Seth Martin, a cardiovascular prevention fellow at
Johns Hopkins Hospital.
At issue are the statin drugs -- including well-known
medications such as Zocor and Lipitor -- that doctors prescribe to
patients with high cholesterol. In 2012, the FDA warned consumers
that "cognitive (brain-related) impairment, such as memory loss,
forgetfulness and confusion, has been reported by some statin
users." Warning labels appeared on the drug packaging, too.
While the brain-related problems appeared to be quite rare, "the
message received by a lot of folks was that this is a big worry
that people need to go in and talk to their physicians about,"
Martin and colleagues decided to look at every related study
they could find to get a wide view of the possible risk. They then
focused on research they considered to be of high quality.
Based on eight studies, the investigators didn't find evidence
that patients who take the drugs in the short term face a higher
risk of brain-related problems. "We found no reason for physicians
to be concerned," said study lead author Dr. Kristopher Swiger, an
internal medicine physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Five of eight studies involving patients who took the drugs for
at least a year (and even as long as 25 years or more) found that
they actually had lower risks of dementia. Three studies focused
specifically on Alzheimer's disease. When findings were combined,
the studies suggest that one in 50 people may gain a reduction in
dementia risk by taking the drug for an average of six years.
It's not clear, however, if the statins are directly responsible
for the difference in dementia risk.
The new review did not receive any drug industry funding.
Dr. Orli Etingin, a professor of clinical medicine at Weill
Cornell Medical College-New York Presbyterian Hospital and a
specialist in blood vessel disorders, said it remains clear that
"statins do more good than harm."
The review appears to be valid, but the studies themselves may
miss small changes in the brainpower of patients, said Etingin, who
was not involved with the new research.
If a patient appears to have cognitive problems, she said, it's
"safe and reasonable" to remove the medication for a few weeks and
see what happens. If the patient's cognition improves, another
statin might be appropriate.
Why might statins affect the brain either positively or
negatively? On one hand, Etingin said, "what's good for the heart
is usually good for the brain." But there could be other effects,
she said, that aren't yet understood.
The study appeared Oct. 1 in the journal
Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
For more about
statins, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
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