DEC 14, 2016 7:36 AM PST

Could Statins be Repurposed to Prevent Alzheimer

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

A new study finds an association between statin use and decreased Alzheimer risks. The study underscores the connection between healthy body and mind, and suggests that, on some level, we may be able to exert some control over neurodegeneration.

Statins are often prescribed to help lower cholesterol levels, especially for patients at high risk for coronary heart disease. Formally known as HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, statins work to lower cholesterol by blocking a key enzyme, HMG-CoA reductase, which has a central role in the production of LDL cholesterol.

The study analyzed statin use in a cohort of nearly 400,000 statin users, all 65 years or older. Then, the participants were followed for a period of 4 years to assess their Alzheimer’s status. The team, led by Julie Zissimopoulos at the University of Southern California, found that people who had used more statins were 10 percent less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The startling association varied depending on sex and ethnicity. "We found risk reduction was slightly higher for women compared to men. So for women, the risk reduction and the onset of Alzheimer's was 15%. For men, it was 12%," Zissimopoulos said.

Furthermore, different statins were associated with different Alzheimer risks. Simvastatin (Zocor) was associated with a lower risk for white men and women, Hispanic men and black women. Atorvastatin (Lipitor) was associated with reduced risk for white, black and Hispanic women and Hispanic men. Pravastatin (Pravachol) and rosuvastatin (Crestor) were associated with reduced risk for white women only.

"All of the statins seem to have some risk reduction, although the findings are much more consistent for simvastatin and atorvastatin, meaning they consistently reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease across men and women and across most race and ethnic groups," said Zissimopoulos.

Some statins, particularly Simvastatin and atorvastatin, are liophillic and are able to cross the blood-brain barrier. The researchers hypothesize this may be why these two statin types showed such consistent findings with reduced Alzheimer risks.

These results may serve to mitigate some disappointment caused by the announcement of Eli Lilly’s Alzheimer drug trial fail last month. However, Zissimopoulos is quick to note that the her study isn’t designed to claim cause-and-effect between statins and Alzheimer’s disease.

"It’s important to know that this is not a study that establishes causality, because it's not an experiment," she said. "It's really important to put this study in the context of where we are in Alzheimer's disease treatment and prevention, and there's still no treatment that exists to delay or prevent Alzheimer's disease."

So, what can patients or proactive individuals do with these results? "If somebody asks, 'Should I be taking a statin to prevent Alzheimer's disease?' I would say, 'Well, there are some data that indicate that, but I would rather have you take your statin if your primary physician says you need it for vascular purposes,' " said Ronald Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic Alzheimer's Disease Research Center.

Additional source: CNN

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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