Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs have been one of the biggest money-makers of all time for drug companies, with some experts estimating that they bring in about a trillion dollars in sales annually.1
Even though, in my opinion and that of many others, their heart health benefits are marginal for most people. Especially when you consider the long list of side effects, which includes memory loss, as we’ve warned for years and as new research once again confirms.
Statin drugs are supposed to lower LDL cholesterol, the so-called “bad” cholesterol linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease.
Now, we could debate (and many have) if lowering LDL cholesterol in this way produces a significant benefit to heart health, but there’s a bigger issue at hand.
I’m talking about the possibility of what a statin drug can do to your brain and your memory.
Statins Increase Alzheimer’s Risk
In one recent study, pro-statin scientists admitted that taking a statin drug was linked to an increased risk of suffering Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia for some people; specifically those people whose memory and mental skills were already compromised when they started taking statins.2
However, researchers insist, this association is a sign that these people who developed dementia would have suffered from cognitive problems anyway, even if they had not taken statins. And they maintain that this study demonstrates that if your brain is in working order then there’s no added risk from these pharmaceuticals.
This nearly five-year investigation involved about 19,000 people over the age of 65 who were taking part in a study originally designed to analyze the long-term effects of taking aspirin. However, when the scientists took a look at people’s statin use they found that people who were already having cognitive problems at the beginning of the research and who took statins were at a greater risk of developing dementia.
In light of this, the researchers theorize that it’s possible these people “with lower cognition have been prescribed statins in the hope of preventing deterioration in the vascular component of dementia.”
But they admit that, “It is also possible that participants with lower cognitive function might have their statin treatment initiated too late to produce any measurable functional improvement, and indeed if disease is already present, the statin may exacerbate it further.”
In other words, if your brain function is already starting to slip, taking a statin could give it an extra push down the slippery slope into memory loss.
Statins Negatively Influence Neurons
Other studies have added more evidence that statins can potentially harm the brain. A study at UCLA found that lipophilic statins may double your risk for dementia.
Lipophilic statins are one of two types of the drug. Lipophilic statins work by impacting numerous organs, while hydrophilic statins mostly interact with the liver.
During this eight-year study, dementia risk for people taking lipophilic statins was increased in both people with normal cognitive function and those suffering mild cognitive impairment. No increase in cognitive problems was found for hydrophilic statins in this research.3
Meanwhile, research at the University of Arizona shows that statins can cause unusual swelling in brain neurons that affect how they behave. “Those very, very dramatic and obvious swellings are inside the neurons and act like a traffic pileup that is so bad that it disrupts the function of the neurons,” says researcher Linda Restifo.4
Of course, memory problems are just one of the many side effects of taking statins. Aside from influencing brain function, their side effects include an increased chance of diabetes, rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle tissues), myopathy (muscle weakness) and liver problems.5
Don’t Quit Statins Cold Turkey
But if you’re already taking a statin, going off your medication presents its own danger.
A French study of people over the age of 75 who went off statins found that those who stopped statins had a 33 percent increased risk of hospitalization with a heart or circulation problem during the next two to three years.6 And a study in Italy of older people taking and discontinuing statins had similar findings.7
Other research, which we’ve often discussed, suggested that statins do not reduce the risk of heart attacks in people who have not previously had a heart attack. However, the French study seems to indicate that if you’re already taking statins, there may be some kind of rebound effect when you stop the drug that increases heart attack risk.
So, if you’re already taking a statin and decide to stop, consult with your healthcare provider about what you need to do to be safe. And before you begin taking these drugs, do all the research you can to make a well-informed decision.