Statins and other popular cholesterol-lowering drugs may help your heart, but they may not protect your brain from age-related diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, a new study shows.

The most common types of dementia include Alzheimer’s disease and dementias resulting from blood vessel abnormalities. Some evidence supports the role of cholesterol metabolism and inflammation in the development of dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers write.

The researchers evaluated whether statins’ cholesterol-lowering and anti-inflammation effects delay or reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

The results of this new study show no such benefits in a large group of older adults who used statins. Yet the researchers add that had the use of these medications been initiated earlier the results of the study may have been different.

The study appears in the July issue of the Archives of Neurology.

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Statins May Not Stall Dementia

In the study, researchers compared the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia in stain users with those who had never used statins in a group of nearly 2,800 adults over age 65. All of the participants were free of dementia when they entered a heart disease study from 1991 to 1994 and were tested annually for signs of dementia.

During the follow-up period more than 480 cases of dementia, including 245 cases of Alzheimer’s, were diagnosed.

After researchers accounted for other known or suspected risk factors for dementia, they found that people who had ever used statins had no reduction in their risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease compared with those who had never used cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Researchers say several factors may explain why the use of statins was not associated with a lower risk of dementia in this study.

For example, the average age of the study participants was 75, and their statin use was assessed for about five years. It’s possible that the use of statins earlier in adulthood or for a longer period may have different affects on dementia risk.

Therefore, they say more study is needed to determine whether and for whom statin use may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

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By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCE: Rea, T. Archives of Neurology, July 2005; vol 62: pp 1047-1051.