Statin drugs reduce risk of Alzheimer’s disease

12 November 2008

A long-term study in the Netherlands has found that older men and women who took statin drugs had a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, published in the Journal of Neurology and Neurosurgery (J Neurol NeuroSurg Psychiatry Oct. 17, 2008), found that older men and women who took statin drugs during the multi-year study had a 43% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. No such reduction in Alzheimer’s disease risk was found for non-statin cholesterol lowering medication.

The study was part of the Rotterdam Study, a long-term prospective study of factors that determine the occurrence of common diseases of the elderly, such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers followed 6,992 men and women recruited at age 55 years or older from baseline (1990-1993) until January 2005 for incident Alzheimer’s disease. During this period, participants were screened periodically for signs of dementia and those with suspected cognitive decline were referred for exhaustive in-depth evaluation for dementia and AD diagnosis. They were also continuously monitored for incident dementia through access to medical records databases.

The researchers had complete access to the participants’ prescription medication records, including statins, thus eliminating a potential source of error compared to earlier studies that relied on self-reported drug use.

The 47% reduction in Alzheimer’s disease risk for people taking statins was similar in size to the positive effect for statins found in some earlier large scale observational or prospective studies: 67% reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (Current Alzheimer Research 2008; 5: 416-421); 48% reduction in risk of dementia or cognitive impairment for statin users (Neurology 2008; 71; 344-350); 74% unadjusted lower risk of AD for statin users (Arch Neurol 2002; 59: 223-227); 69.6% lower prevalence of AD for statin users (Arch Neurol 2000; 57: 1439-1443); 71% lower relative risk of AD for statin users (Lancet 2000; 356:1627-1631).

Statins are widely used cholesterol-lowering drugs with a well-established track record of safety. They have an estimated global market over $25 billion and represent a potential new way of treating or preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

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