[Jan. 1, 2024: JD Shavit, The Brighter Side of News]
Alzheimer's disease, a devastating neurodegenerative condition that affects millions of people worldwide, may have found a glimmer of hope. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)
Alzheimer's disease, a devastating neurodegenerative condition that affects millions of people worldwide, may have found a glimmer of hope in an unexpected place - statins.
A groundbreaking study led by Karolinska Institutet, recently published in Alzheimer Research and Therapy, suggests that statins, commonly used to lower cholesterol levels, might slow the progression of Alzheimer's in certain patients. While the results are promising, the researchers emphasize caution, viewing this study as just the first step in a potentially groundbreaking journey of discovery.
The study's findings reveal a fascinating connection between Alzheimer's and statins. People diagnosed with Alzheimer's dementia who also received treatment with lipid-lowering statins experienced a slower deterioration in their cognitive functions compared to those who did not receive statin treatment.
However, it's essential to note that this is an observational study, where researchers analyzed patient data from a registry. As such, it cannot definitively establish a causal relationship between statin use and Alzheimer's progression. Therefore, the researchers exercise caution when interpreting the results.
Sara Garcia-Ptacek, a docent of neuroscience and assistant professor at the Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences, and Society, and the research leader of the study, highlights the importance of safety in this context. Statins were once suspected of causing confusion in patients with dementia, leading to hesitancy in prescribing them to such patients. She asserts, "People with Alzheimer's dementia treated with statins had better cognitive development over time.
However, the results of the study do not mean that we now have evidence that people with dementia should be treated with statins. But on the other hand, we can't see any support for not doing so. So, if a person needs statins for high blood lipids, a dementia diagnosis should not stop the treatment."
The study incorporated data from over 15,500 dementia patients who also had indications for lipid-lowering treatment. Among them, nearly 11,000 received statin therapy. Interestingly, the patients on statins displayed slightly higher cognitive test scores despite having higher rates of conditions like high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, all of which are established risk factors for dementia.
Interaction between the patient’s and medication’s characteristics potentially influence the cognitive effects of statins. Two separate cholesterol pools in the body are thought to be connected to the risk of Alzheimer’s disease (AD), central and peripheral. (CREDIT: Alzheimer Research and Therapy)
Garcia-Ptacek elucidates that their research began with the hypothesis that statins might decelerate dementia progression. They cast a wide net to explore if there was any evidence to substantiate this theory. "The basic idea of this study was to pave the way for a more precise cohort study that could eventually lead to a clinical intervention study, which is what is needed to prove a causal link between statins and cognition," she explains.
The concept of statins influencing dementia's risk or progression is not entirely new. Previous clinical studies have explored this idea, but they yielded negative results. Garcia-Ptacek and her team believe that these trials might have been too small to detect significant differences.
Cognitive decline, evaluated with change in MMSE score over time, in statin users compared to non-users of statins. The graph shows the association between increasing doses of statin treatment and MMSE over time, as predicted from the model. (CREDIT: Alzheimer Research and Therapy)
Their approach focuses on pinpointing specific patient groups within the Alzheimer's spectrum that might benefit the most from statin treatment, and understanding why they respond positively. This preliminary study sets the stage for more refined investigations and potential future clinical trials.
In essence, while this study hints at the potential benefits of statins in Alzheimer's patients, it serves as a critical stepping stone in unraveling the complex relationship between these drugs and dementia. Further research is needed to definitively establish the causality and to identify which subset of Alzheimer's patients stands to gain the most from statin therapy. Until then, cautious optimism remains the prevailing sentiment in the pursuit of a breakthrough in Alzheimer's treatment.
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