Researchers dispel concern that cholesterol lowering treatment, often prescribed to people with type 2 diabetes, could be linked to memory problems.
A study has been carried out to determine what the long-term risk affect on memory could be for people taking statins.
This followed reports that after starting to take statins people had problems with memory or thinking abilities (cognition).
Statins are widely prescribed to lower cholesterol in people at risk of a heart attack or stroke, including people with type 2 diabetes.
A recently published study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that over a 6 year period there was no difference in the rate of decline in memory or global cognition between people prescribed statins and those who had never taken the treatment.
Researchers who carried out the study from the University of New South Wales and St Vincent's Hospital, in Australia said: “There is widespread consumer concern that statin use may be associated with impaired memory and cognitive decline.
“This study sought to examine the association between statin use and changes in memory and global cognition in the elderly population over 6 years and brain volumes over 2 years. Interactions between statin use and known dementia risk factors were examined.”
Previous studies on statins have not looked at memory or cognition specifically, while others that have looked for a link since have used differing memory tests, making it hard to compare findings.
This study tested the memory and overall cognitive function of 1,037 people aged 70 to 90 several times over a 6-year period.
Researchers concluded: “In community-dwelling elderly Australians, statin therapy was not associated with any greater decline in memory or cognition over 6 years. These data are reassuring for consumers concerned about statin use and risk of memory decline.”
An NHS Behind the Headlines analysis of the report concluded: “Statins are widely used drugs in the UK. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) says they can be offered to people with a 10% risk of having a heart attack in the next 10 years. But concerns have been raised about offering statins to people who are otherwise healthy, because of the possible risk of side effects.
“This study seems to suggest that fears over a link between statins and cognitive decline or memory loss are unfounded. The study found no link between the drugs and mental decline.
The significance of the reported "protection" against memory loss for people starting statins is unclear.
“Because of the type of study, we do not know why these people were prescribed statins while others were not. Doctors might be more likely to prescribe statins to people over 70 who seem to be mentally sharp, rather than people who already seem affected by memory loss. That could mean people prescribed statins have less memory loss – but not because of the statin. Previous studies have not found any evidence that statins prevent dementia.
“There are a few limitations with the study. Complete data was only available for 55% of the people who started the study, and those who dropped out were older and had lower cognitive scores. The type of study also means we are limited in how we can interpret the results.
“However, the research is good news for people who are considering taking statins but are worried about possible side effects. This study suggests that they are unlikely to cause problems with memory or general cognitive function.”
It is recommended if you are taking statins it that you do not stop taking them without consulting your GP.