There is no link between statins and memory loss, new research suggests.
The findings come amid concerns that statins may have a negative impact on cognitive health.
But according to the study, the drugs may even protect against memory decline in some individuals at risk of dementia.
Professor Katherine Samaras, head of the clinical obesity, nutrition and adipose biology lab at the Garvan Institute, Australia, said: “We carried out the most comprehensive analysis of cognition in elderly statin users to date, and found no results to support that cholesterol-lowering statins cause memory impairment.”
“Many factors can contribute to the cognitive symptoms that isolated case reports describe.
“What we’ve come away with from this study is a reassurance for consumers to feel more confident about their statin prescription.”
The researchers examined changes in the memory and global cognition regarding statin use over a six-year period and two years of brain volume studies.
Our findings demonstrate how crucial a healthy metabolism is to brain functionProfessor Katherine Samaras
Information was collected every two years on four occasions over the six-year period by psychologists and nurses, with clinicians diagnosing the presence of heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.
Participants’ medications and duration of use were categorised as statin “ever” use versus “never” use, continuous statin use during observation versus never use.
Other categories were specific statins – simvastatin, pravastatin and atorvastatin – versus never use, and statin initiation during observation period versus never use.
The 1,037 participants were aged 70 to 90 years and were 98% caucasian and Australian born (67%) or European born (18%).
There were 395 “never users” and 642 “ever users”, which included ever users at baseline and those who started taking statins during the study period.
On average, participants had been on statins for nine years.
The study assessed changes to the brain, measuring five areas of cognition using 13 different tests and MRI scans of the brain.
Over the six years, there was no difference in the rate of decline of memory or global cognition between statin users and never users, according to the study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Further, the researchers found that in individuals with risk factors for dementia, including heart disease or diabetes, statin use slowed down cognitive decline, compared to those with the same risk factors who did not take statins.
Prof Samaras added: “Our findings demonstrate how crucial a healthy metabolism is to brain function, and how therapies can modulate this to promote healthy ageing.”
Researchers acknowledge that the study had some limitations, including the observational design of the study and potential for selection and survivor bias.