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Published on: April 14, 2014
by Jo Willey for Express:
As the health watchdog considers new guidance to prescribe statins to an extra four million patients to lower their risk of heart disease, researchers have found the pills have additional benefits.
They discovered that the higher the dose and the longer patients took them, the greater the potential for staving off the brain disease.
It means that if the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence plans are approved, 12 million patients could be taking the daily tablets to guard against heart attacks and stroke and at the same time protecting themselves from dementia in later life.
Scientists tracked more than 30,000 people for a decade after the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning in 2012 that the cholesterol-busters, which cost as little as 40p a day, might leave some patients confused.
Instead, the latest results, published in the International Journal of Cardiology, found the pills may actually help to stave off the disease.
Statins are the most widely prescribed drugs on the NHS, with around 60 million prescriptions a year in England alone.
As well as lowering cholesterol, statins are known to have an anti-inflammatory effect, and inflammation is thought by some experts to be one of the chief causes of chronic diseases.
It has been shown to be a factor in the development of age-related diseases such as atherosclerosis – thickening of artery walls – and a risk factor for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.
Researchers from the National Taipei Medical University and the National Yang-Ming University, both in Taiwan, found that patients prescribed the drugs at any time were 22 per cent less likely to suffer brain problems than those who never took them.
Women saw the greatest benefit, with the risk reduced by 24 per cent.
More potent types of the drugs – such as rosuvastatin, atorvastatin and simvastatin – had a greater impact than weaker drugs such as fluvastatin, lovastatin and pravastatin.
Women were much more likely to get protection if they had taken the pills for more than a year, while in men the greatest benefits appeared after three years.
Dr Simon Ridley, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Similar studies in other countries have also associated statin use with lower dementia risk and it is interesting to see this observation repeated in a large study in Asia.
“These kinds of studies are useful for highlighting trends but do not confirm cause and effect.
“The best way to know for sure whether statins could reduce the risk of dementia would be through clinical trials.
“To date, there is not enough evidence from clinical trials to suggest that statins could prevent dementia but there are trials still ongoing at the moment.
“Until there is firm evidence, we would not recommend people take statins to prevent dementia. However, we know that cardiovascular risk factors can be associated with poor brain health so keeping high cholesterol in check may help maintain a healthy brain in old age.”
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