Gavin Guard, Medical Director
Do cholesterol lowering medications (statins) lead to Alzheimer's?
Updated: Jan 22, 2022
There remains a large concern about statins and risk of Alzheimer’s
A large study of over 1.4 million patients showed that statins are NOT associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s
Statin drugs may have a protective effect on the risk of Alzheimer’s
One of the most popular drugs on the market right now belongs to cholesterol-lowering medications, AKA “statins”. These statin medications are typically given to patients with elevated cholesterol numbers. Such statins include Crestor and Lipitor. Good evidence suggests that these medications reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease including heart attacks and stroke but a growing concern remains regarding a possible increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
A new study looked at whether statins increase Alzheimer’s risk
In 2012, the FDA issued a “black box” warning for statin medications cautioning the possibility of cognitive impairment. Is there any evidence to substantiate these claims?
Fortunately, a new study published in the reputable Journal of Clinical Lipidology helps us answer this question. This study was a systematic review. What this means is that this was a study reviewing multiple other studies. This is the highest quality evidence. Think of it this way; a restaurant has 1 good review but when you look on Yelp, they have an average of 2-star rating from 100 people. Even though one person had a good review, your average likelihood of having a good meal at that restaurant is very poor. In the same way, a review study looks at the collection of evidence of multiple other smaller studies.
In this particular case, this review examined a total of 24 studies including a little over 1.4 million patients over 60 years old placed on statins. The studies examined followed patients over the course of 3 to 15 years and examined the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, and cognitive impairment. Here’s what they found.
Statins do NOT lead to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s
Of the 24 studies, they concluded,
“Moderate to high-grade evidence from [these studies] did not show that statin use was significantly associated with incidence of dementia or other measures of cognitive decline.”
In fact, some of the individual studies that followed patients for a longer period of time (~10 years) actually showed a reduction in the incidence of Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline. This is in line with some experts who argue statin medications may reduce the proteins that build up in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s.
Work with your doctor to find the right treatment plan to prevent cardiovascular disease
As always, it’s important to have an educated discussion with your health care provider about the risks and benefits of statin medications.
At my clinic, Roots Integrated Care, I routinely utilize validated tools that can predict rates of cardiovascular disease with and without the use of medications. This gives an idea about their risk so that they can ultimately make the decision of what they want to do.
Nonetheless, I almost always start with seeing what we can get away with using nutrition, lifestyle, and targeting underlying causes of cardiovascular disease such as inflammation, oxidative stress, immune dysfunction, and hormonal balance before moving straight to medications. As you can see here, it’s important to take a personalized and comprehensive approach to optimizing healthy aging and disease risk reduction.
The Bottom Line
Despite the claims floating around the “healthosphere”, statin medications most likely do NOT increase risk of cognitive decline. This was evidenced by a large study review of over 1.4 million patients. It’s vital to take a personalized and comprehensive approach to reducing the risk of something like heart disease.
I hope you found this information useful and helpful in your journey back to a healthier and happier life.
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