Researchers in Taiwan have reported findings from a study of more than 33,000 over 60s showing that statin use is associated with a lower risk of dementia. The findings are published in the International Journal of Cardiology.
Statins are commonly prescribed to treat high cholesterol but there have been mixed reports about possible effects of the drugs on memory. Some studies report side-effects of statins as making memory worse, whereas other studies have suggested that those taking statins may have a lower risk of dementia. To study this link further, researchers in Taiwan studied 33,398 over 60s using the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database. The researchers studied 16,699 individuals taking statins and matched them with similar individuals on the database who were not using statins. From 2000 to 2010, these records were tracked to see how many people in each group went onto develop dementia.
Statin use was defined as patients who received at least one prescription of statins during the follow-up period and records were excluded where people developed dementia before the prescription of statins was made.
Those who were taking statins were found to have a lower risk of dementia. The risk of dementia was slightly lower in women taking statins compared to men taking the drugs.
Those statins classed as more ‘potent’ – those having a greater cholesterol-lowering effect – were found to be associated with a lower risk than less potent statins. Dementia risk was also found to be lower for people who had been on statin treatment for more a year, with the lowest risk score for those on statins for more than three years.
Dr Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said:
“Similar studies in other countries have also associated statin use with lower dementia risk and it is interesting to see this observation repeated in a large study in Asia. These kinds of studies are useful for highlighting trends but do not confirm cause and effect. The best way to know for sure whether statins could reduce the risk of dementia would be through clinical trials. To date, there is not enough evidence from clinical trials to suggest that statins could prevent dementia but there are trials still ongoing at the moment.
“Until there is firm evidence from clinical trials, we would not recommend people take statins to prevent dementia. However, we know that cardiovascular risk factors can be associated with poor brain health so keeping high cholesterol in check may help maintain a healthy brain in old age. Other ways to keep the brain healthy include regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and controlling high blood pressure.”