It has recently been claimed in the press that cholesterol-lowering statin drugs might prevent the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease. These assertions are actually based on a small laboratory study on mice genetically modified to display signs of Alzheimer’s (specifically so that they have excess levels of amyloid protein, a characteristic feature of Alzheimer’s Disease in humans). The early-stage research in question found that the cholesterol-lowering drug simvastatin could improve learning and memory in mice. These “improvements” were seen in younger mice only, not the older ones. The same research found that simvastatin improves blood vessel function.
The researchers interpret these findings as indicating that statins might be effective for blocking early-stage disease only.
Note: Earlier research into whether statins can help avoid Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia in humans suggests there is no evidence yet that statins give any specific benefits. The current research suggests that the timing of statin use may be important, but the evidence is inconclusive at present; and for this reason the headlines about “Statins halting Alzheimer’s” are over-optimistic. More research is needed.
Alzheimer’s: statin cure claims unfounded. London: NHS Choices, April 4th 2012.
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Tong, XK. Lecrux, C. [and] Hamel, E. (2012). Age-dependent rescue by simvastatin of Alzheimer’s disease cerebrovascular and memory deficits. The Journal of Neuroscience: the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, April 4th 2012, Vol.32(14), pp.4705-15. (Click here to view the PubMed abstract).