It has previously been suspected that statin use may be related to impaired memory and cognitive decline. This uncertainty surrounding the potential unintended detrimental impact of their use has raised great concern given that statins are one of the most commonly prescribed medicines in the US.
Image Credit: roger ashford / Shutterstock.com
However, a new study has uncovered that this link may be unfounded. Researchers have demonstrated that the rate of memory or cognitive decline in users of statin, observed over two years, was not significantly different from a control group who had never taken the medication.
Clarification needed over potential side effects of common drug
Statins are a group of medications that are commonly prescribed to those at risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, renal disease, and other lipid disorders. They act on an enzyme that is used to make cholesterol and have been found to reduce illness and mortality in this at-risk group.
However, consumer concern has been generated due to the use of these medicines being associated with adverse psychological effects. With over 35 million taking the drugs in the US, it has been of paramount importance to conduct a thorough investigation into whether statins can impair memory and cause cognitive decline.
Researchers in Australia have collected data that provides reassurance on this issue. In a study published this month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers reveal that following a six-year study, they found no evidence to support the theory that statins have a negative cognitive impact.
On the contrary, their evidence suggests that they may be protective against memory decline in some users, although these findings require further investigation.
Six year-long study finds no detrimental effects
The Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA) at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia, was the setting of a study that took place over six years with the aim of investigating the relationship between statin use and changes in memory and cognition. The researchers compared memory and cognitive function of two groups, statin users and those who had never taken the medication.
Both groups represented an elderly population. Participants’ performance on measures of memory and cognition were collected over the course of six years, and measures of their brain volume were taken over two years. Researchers also investigated a potential relationship between statin use and risk factors of dementia.
The results showed that the two groups displayed no significant difference in the rate of decline in memory or global cognition over a six-year period. Researchers also concluded that there was an observed blunting of cognitive decline in those who began statin use during the research period, which contradicts the previous suspicions surrounding the medication.
However, a decline in performance on a specific memory was associated with statin use in a group of participants with heart disease and apolipoprotein Eε4 carriage. Therefore, statin may cause certain memory deficits in a specific group of users, which needs to be studied further to assess the risk posed to this cohort.
Finally, the results showed that there was no difference in brain volume changes between the two groups over two years.
Reassurance for statin users
Overall, the results of the longitudinal study found that statin therapy was not related to an increased decline in memory or cognition. The results serve as a reassurance to the large population of patients taking the medication for a range of health issues.
Given that there is a large body of evidence that supports the mortality reducing impact of statins in those with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, renal disease, and other lipid disorders, it is important that patients are not motivated to stop taking their medication through fears over detrimental side effects that are not supported by clinical evidence.
Samaras et al. (2019). Effects of Statins on Memory, Cognition, and Brain Volume in the Elderly. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2019.09.041