Seattle: The family of anti-cholesterol drugs called statins and taken by millions around the world, can protect against Alzheimer’s disease, according to new research.
An examination of brain tissue has provided the first direct evidence that statins – taken to prevent heart disease and strokes – can also ward off dementia and memory loss. The study is published in the American Journal of Neurology.
The new findings s come from a study of 110 brains – donated for medical research – at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. The researchers led by Dr Gail Li examined the brains for changes linked to Alzheimer’s -including the creation of ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’ made from the protein called beta amyloid.
These changes appear in the brain long before any symptoms of dementia develop. Eventually, they damage enough brain cells to trigger confusion, memory loss and eventually death. The researchers found far fewer tangles in the brains of people who had taken statins, compared to those who had not.
The findings were true even after age, sex and the history of strokes were taken into account. This is the first study to compare the brains of people who took statins with those who did not.
Dr Eric Larson, study co-author said: “These results are exciting, novel and have important implications for prevention strategies.”
Statins work by blocking the action of a chemical in the liver which is needed to make the ‘bad’ form of cholesterol, LDL. Reducing levels of bad cholesterol keeps blood vessels unclogged.
The researchers are not sure how statins also prevent the buildup of protein tangles in the brain. They suspect that a healthy flow of blood is a key factor.
Another study, five year’s ago at Boston University found that statins may cut the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 79 per cent, even in people with a family history of the disease. Some small- scale studies have found an apparent link between statins and cancer and Parkinson’s disease. Other studies, however, suggest that the drugs can ease the pain of rheumatoid arthritis.