Although high cholesterol levels are a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, they appear to increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well. This discovery has led researchers to explore possible links between drugs for lowering cholesterol and Alzheimer’s care.
Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s Disease: What’s the Connection?
Dementia results from changes in the brain, leading to symptoms that affect cognitive function. Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, there are other types. Vascular dementia, for example, may develop after a stroke, or other conditions that deprive the brain of oxygen. High cholesterol levels and high blood pressure are key risk factors for vascular dementia.
High cholesterol levels also appear to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by speeding up the development of amyloid plaques in the brain. According to Harvard Men’s Health Watch (2007), individuals with (genetically inherited) higher levels of a certain cholesterol transport protein have a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Drugs for Lowering Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s Treatment
Statins are drugs that help lower blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, known as “bad cholesterol.” By blocking the cholesterol-producing enzyme in your body, these drugs reduce buildup of LDL cholesterol. Statins also enable the body to reabsorb some cholesterol that has built up on artery walls.
After uncovering this link between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s, researchers are interested in finding a connection between drugs for lowering cholesterol and Alzheimer’s treatment. Some evidence suggests that statins protect nerve cells in the brain from damage due to amyloid plaques, as well as prevent memory loss due to cell death in the brain.
Scientists believe that the anti-inflammatory properties of statins may help to explain these capabilities.
Studies Involving Statins for Alzheimer’s Care
Despite these findings, studies have produced mixed results. A Boston University School of Medicine study (2007) utilized data from the U.S. Veterans Affairs Medical System, a database containing diagnostic, pharmaceutical and demographic information on 4.5 million people.
After studying the effects of three different statins, researchers found that simvastatin was associated with a reduction in Alzheimer’s disease by almost 50 percent. Simvastatin showed similar results for Parkinson’s disease as well. The scientists believe that simvastatin’s effectiveness may be due to the drug’s potency and ability to enter the brain.
Other studies, however, have produced quite different results. After two major studies, researchers with the Cochrane Collaboration (2009) concluded that neither simvastin nor another statin, pravastatin, had any effect on reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in older adults.
Preventative Alzheimer’s Care
It’s clear that more research is necessary to determine whether statins are an effective treatment option for Alzheimer’s care. What is certain, however, is that a healthy lifestyle, including a good diet and regular exercise, continues to be the best preventative strategy for Alzheimer’s disease.
American Health Assistance Foundation. (n.d.) Potential Alzheimer’s treatments. Retrieved June 15, 2010, from http://www.ahaf.org/alzheimers/treatment/potential/.
Boston University. (2007). Specific statin significantly reduces Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease risk, study shows. Retrieved June 18, 2010, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070719011237.htm.
Dolga, A.M., et al. (2009). Pretreatment with Lovastatin Prevents N-Methyl-D-Aspartate-Induced Neurodegeneration in the Magnocellular Nucleus Basalis and Behavioral Dysfunction. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 17(2), 327-336. doi: 10.3233/JAD-2009-1052.
Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation. (n.d.) Alzheimer’s research aimed at prevention. Retrieved June 17, 2010, from http://www.alzinfo.org/alzheimers-research-prevention.asp#3.
Harvard Medical School. (n.d.) Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s: Statins and beta amyloid plaque. Retrieved June 18, 2010, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/alzheimers-cholesterol.
Mayo Clinic. (2010). Statins: Are these cholesterol-lowering drugs right for you? Retrieved June 18, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/statins/CL00010.