Is there a link between statins medication and Alzheimer’s risk or progression? Could it be possible for a medication to both positively and negatively impact cognitive aging?
This article will dive deep into the evidence provided by various studies to connect the dots and better understand the link between statins and Alzheimer’s.
What Are Statins?
Statins are one of the most popularly prescribed medications in the country. They are used by millions of people around the globe to bring down cholesterol levels.
There are various kinds of statin drugs available on the market, such as Atorvastatin, Lovastatin, Simvastatin, etc.
These medications are highly important in the fight against cardiovascular disease, which has the highest rate of mortality in the country.
Statins help lower bad cholesterol or LDL. Their function is to block the liver from making an enzyme that it requires to make cholesterol. They also help the organ get rid of the cholesterol that is already swimming around in the bloodstream.
Cholesterol is not all bad. It is used by the body to create hormones, vitamins, and cells. All the cholesterol required by your body is made by the liver, i.e., about 75% of it. The remainder is from your consumption of anything with dietary cholesterol.
When the good cholesterol outweighs the bad, it puts you at risk of atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular conditions. This is where statins come into the picture.
Besides fighting cholesterol levels, certain studies have also linked the use of statins with lowered risk of stroke and heart disease.
Is the Use Of Statins Linked With Alzheimer’s?
Clinical studies have shown tenuous conclusions on the association of statins with Alzheimer’s.
While some statin users report memory impairment, there has been no concrete evidence in support of these claims.
Research points towards a mixed conclusion with the majority of the evidence leaning towards statins' ability to prevent Alzheimer’s and other forms of cognitive issues.
At the start of the decade, concerning reports regarding the use of statins and cognitive impairment began to accumulate. They indicated that some of the patients began showing cognitive problems sixty days into the statins treatment.
However, once the medication was discontinued, these symptoms improved for about 50% of those who had been affected. In cases of progressive conditions like Alzheimer’s, they would not be expected.
Since research into the subject matter was unable to link statins with the increased risk of Alzheimer’s, FDA stamped a label on the medication that listed symptoms such as memory loss and brain fog as reversible and non-serious side effects.
On the flip side, statins have been linked to decreasing the risk of Alzheimer’s and related cognitive diseases.
A controlled and randomized investigation involving over 3,000 adults who used statins revealed that the medication had a protective effect as opposed to a harmful one.
Long-term use of the medication showed no association with cerebrovascular diseases. Instead, it cast the treatment in a favorable light for its potential to decrease the risk.
However, much more research involving a larger population is required before any concrete conclusions can be drawn.
If someone taking statins experiences cognitive side effects, they should reach out to a professional. Stopping the medication without consultation may have an adverse effect.
Helpful Vs Harmful
Researchers have tried to shine a light on how the medication can prove helpful and harmful in the same instance.
Since statins lower cholesterol, they provide cardiovascular benefits such as a reduced risk of strokes. These benefits may play a role in decreasing the risk of dementia.
When not elevated, cholesterol plays an important role in boosting brain function, supporting the formation of myelin sheaths and promoting synaptic activity. So when statins come into play to lower cholesterol, it could deprive the brain of benefits.
With this possibility in mind, one can deduce that individuals who are taking higher levels of statins could potentially develop cognitive problems. However, there are too many factors involved for a conclusive answer.
A recent study involving over 1.8 million adults over 40 years of age showed an association between high LDL levels and increased risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
While a conclusive link between statins and cognitive diseases may not have been established, it is clear how important a role cardiovascular health plays in preventing the development of these conditions down the line.
While there may be some risks and side effects to statins (as with any medication), they are quite effective in bringing down high cholesterol levels and improving cardiovascular health.
However, these medications should not to taken as a substitute for a healthy lifestyle. Making appropriate lifestyle changes will improve heart and cognitive health in the long run.
What Increases Risk Of Alzheimer’s?
Alzheimer’s disease is still being understood by scientists. It is a progressive cognitive disease that falls under the umbrella of dementia. Individuals with dementia suffer from cognitive impairments that affect their everyday life.
Over 60 percent of dementia cases suffer from Alzheimer’s where a majority get diagnosed in their late 60s. Unfortunately, there the disease has no cure. However, its progression can be slowed down with certain treatments.
The progressive and chronic condition is not the result of a single cause. In fact, experts have been unable to pinpoint what exactly causes the disease. But they were able to determine some risk factors, such as genetics, age, and family history.
Just because someone presents with any of the risk factors, it does not mean they will develop the disease. It simply indicates that they are more at risk of getting diagnosed than someone without the same risk factors.
Other factors also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s, such as cardiovascular diseases, brain trauma, smoking, and depression.
A majority of people have the late-onset disease where the Alzheimer’s symptoms start becoming apparent during the mid-60s. Only a small percentage of people with Alzheimer’s suffer from the early onset disease. In this case, the symptoms are apparent after the 30s.
A family history of the disease increases the likelihood of someone developing Alzheimer’s. One particular gene has sparked the interest of researchers—APOE4 or Apolipoprotein E. This gene has been associated with the late-onset symptoms of Alzheimer’s.
There are also some other rare genes that have been linked to early-onset symptoms of the condition.
Symptoms Of Alzheimer’s Disease
The early symptoms of the conditions may be so subtle that they can get written off easily. However, catching on to these symptoms early can help extend and improve the quality of life of affected individuals.
The mild symptoms may start with having difficulty remembering new things. This happens because the condition affects the brain areas responsible for learning. One may repeat themselves, forget conversations, or be unable to remember where objects like car keys were placed.
Since memory loss once in a while is simply part of growing old, it does necessarily mean it is Alzheimer’s. However, if the forgetfulness worsens, it is important to seek out professional help.
Once the disease has progressed and affected more parts of the brain, family members and friends may start recognizing more apparent changes in the individual.
The moderate symptoms may be an inability to recognize people, difficulty communicating, reading or writing, changes in the personality and outbursts of emotions, lack of impulse control, paranoia, etc.
The individual may also have trouble doing daily tasks involving the perceptual-motor function, such as setting the table.
The final stage of Alzheimer's disease is when severe symptoms appear. At this stage, people have no control over their physical selves and rely entirely on others. This may lead to complications such as difficulty swallowing, bedsores, seizures, and weight loss.
Several other diseases also present with similar symptoms to Alzheimer's. A medical professional will run exams to rule out the condition and make a proper diagnosis.
How To Reduce The Risk Of Alzheimer’s?
Since there is no cure for the progressive disease, there is also no foolproof way to reduce the risk. However, a healthy lifestyle is one of the best tools in your arsenal that will help combat cognitive decline.
Smoking is not only bad for the lungs, but it also affects your brain function adversely. Quitting the habit will benefit your health in the long run.
Mental stimulation combined with physical activity is a great way to keep at bay cognitive decline and reduce the risk of other health conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In addition to this, maintaining a healthy diet is key to improving overall health.
Some studies have also linked early-life factors like education to a diminished risk of cognitive impairment. There are also differences in risk levels based on race and gender. These factors are actively being studied to get better insight into the cause of the disease.
Before you embark on any major lifestyle changes, make sure to consult your doctor.
Statins and Alzheimer's: The Bottom Line
High cholesterol is bad for heart health. Statins work as an effective medication in treating those who have high levels of LDL in their blood.
While there has been some hue-and-cry about the adverse effects of statins, particularly in increasing the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia, there has been a lack of sufficient evidence to support the claim.
Instead, several research studies have indicated that statins may potentially decrease the risk of developing neurodegenerative conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s.