Sydney, Australia—Pharmacists can share some comforting news about the possible link between taking statins and cognitive decline.

A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found no association between prescriptions for the cholesterol-lowering medications and symptoms such as memory loss. Researchers from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Australia note that some concerns have been raised by consumers about whether statins affect their cognitive health.

Not only did the study team find no evidence that statins lead to cognitive decline, it actually found some evidence that use of the drugs might be protective against memory loss in those at risk of dementia.

“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,” says first author Professor Katherine Samaras, MBBS, PhD, who heads the Clinical Obesity, Nutrition and Adipose Biology lab at the Garvan Institute and is an endocrinologist at St. Vincent’s Hospital Sydney. “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.”

While statins are among the most widely prescribed medications, Dr. Samaras points out that about half of patients prescribed the drugs don’t fill them, at least partly because of isolated case reports of cognitive decline in statin users.

To try to put those worries to rest, researchers assessed changes to the brain in 1,037 elderly patients, measuring five areas of cognition using 13 different tests and MRI scans of the brain, over 6 years.

“Controlling for important and potentially contributory factors, such as age, sex, and obesity, we found no difference in the rate by which memory and other aspects of cognition changed over time, between statin users and those who had never used the medication. There was also no difference in the change in brain volumes between the two groups,” she explained.

The study used data from CHeBA’s Sydney Memory and Aging Study; an observational study of older community-dwelling Australians that began in 2005.

Researchers report that, over a 6-year period, no difference was detected in the rate of decline in memory or global cognition between statin users and never users. They point out that, instead, statin initiation during the observation period was associated with “blunting the rate of memory decline.” In addition, the study documented no variation in brain volume changes between statin users and never users.

“In this study our data reassuringly suggests that the use of statins to lower cholesterol levels is not likely to adversely affect memory function,” noted Perminder Sachdev, AM, MBBS, MD, PhD, codirector of CHeBA. “Since it is an observational study, the findings should not be considered conclusive. However, the evidence is mounting that statins are safe in relation to brain health and this concern should not preclude their use in individuals who are likely to benefit from lower cholesterol levels.”

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