Health A to Z

Seniors' Health: Cholesterol drugs may be good for the brain

Autopsies reveal fewer signs of Alzheimer's disease in people who used statins

An autopsy study has shown that people who used cholesterol-lowering medications called statins have fewer signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain.

Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia, leads to the formation in the brain of protein fragments called “tangles” and abnormal cell clusters called “plaques.”

Researchers led by Dr. Eric Larson, executive director of the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle, autopsied the brains of 110 deceased adults, ages 65 to 79, who had participated in a study of the development of dementia.

Pharmacy records indicated 36 participants had filled three or more prescriptions of at least 15 pills for the cholesterol-lowering drugs simvastatin, pravastatin, lovastatin or atorvastatin. These people had fewer plaques and tangles in their brain than participants who had not been statin users.

However, Larson says the explanation for this effect is unknown. It’s possible the drugs are benefiting the brain indirectly, by improving the health of the circulatory system, or they may act directly on the brain in some way. “But all this is very speculative,” he says.

“Stay tuned, and in the next few years … we’ll have more data from our study that I think will begin to unravel this mystery.”