Research has indicated that statins, used by millions of people to lower cholesterol, do not protect against Parkinson's disease as once thought. Statins are commonly prescribed to lower cholesterol levels, and it had been suggested at one time that they offered some protection against Parkinson’s, a degenerative neurological disorder. However, new work by scientists at Penn State College of Medicine has found that routine use of statins could also be accelerating the onset of symptoms of Parkinson's disease. The work was published in the journal Movement Disorders, and is summarized in the video.
Statins are usually given to people that have high cholesterol and a variety of studies had come to different conclusions when it came to Parkinson’s, the second most common neurodegenerative disease in the U.S. Some research had indicated statin use was coupled with a lower risk of the disease, some research said there was no relationship between the two, while studies done in recent years have begun to show the drug caused an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease.
"One of the reasons that may have explained these prior inconsistent results is that higher cholesterol, the main indication to use statins, has been related to lower occurrence of Parkinson's disease," suggested senior author Xuemei Huang, a Professor of Neurology at Penn State College of Medicine. "This made it hard to know if the statin protective effect was due to the drug or preexisting cholesterol status."
For this work a database of patient claims to insurance companies was analyzed; it compiled data from over 50 million individuals, 22,000 of whom had Parkinson's disease. The researchers went on to select 2,322 patients from that list - those that had been recently diagnosed with Parkinson's. Next, patients that had been taking a statin were identified, and it was determined how long they had been exposed to the drug before the symptoms of Parkinson's disease started.
"Statin use was associated with higher, not lower, Parkinson's disease risk, and the association was more noticeable for lipophilic statins, an observation inconsistent with the current hypothesis that these statins protect nerve cells," Huang explained. "In addition, this association was most robust for use of statins less than two-and-a-half years, suggesting that statins may facilitate the onset of Parkinson's disease."
While this research aligns with other data, it also contradicts some other research. One recently published study suggested that those who halted their statin use were more likely to receive a Parkinson's disease diagnosis.
"Our new data suggests a different explanation," Huang said. "Use of statins may lead to new Parkinson's disease-related symptoms, thus causing patients to stop using statins. We are not saying that statins cause Parkinson's disease, but rather that our study suggests that statins should not be used based on the idea that they will protect against Parkinson's,"