Cholesterol lowering medicines might improve brain injury outcomes

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Cholesterol lowering medicines known as statins have been found to help patients with brain injury survive, according to a finding that researchers call “intriguing”. Older patients with serious head injury were found to be 76 percent more likely to survive and 13 percent more likely to regain function a year later when they were taking statin drugs, compared to people not taking the medications.

Cholesterol lowering drugs help the brain recover from injury

The study finding is reported in the October, 2011 Journal of Trauma. Patients included in the research were taking cholesterol lowering drugs before they experience a head injury.

Researchers were aware that mice with brain injury and on statins were able to recover.

For the current study, the scientists reviewed information from 69 hospitals in the United States from the National Study on Costs and Outcomes of Trauma.

They specifically looked at patients over age 65 because of the likelihood they would be taking the cholesterol lowering medications.

The study investigators found 523 patients with moderate to severe brain injury; 22 percent were taking statins at the time of injury.


From the study, there was a 76 percent lower chance of dying discovered among patients with brain trauma who were taking cholesterol lowering drugs. The same benefit wasn’t found for patients taking statins who had heart disease however.

The study authors would like to start trials to see if giving statins to patients with head trauma immediately on arrival to the emergency room could provide a specific drug treatment for brain trauma. Currently, there is none.

Eric B. Schneider, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Center for Surgical Trials and Outcomes Research, and the study’s leader said “We don’t think it’s the lowering of cholesterol that’s helping the brain recover in those who have been taking statins. We think there are other, less well-known properties of statins that are causing the benefits we seem to be seeing here.”

The researchers say the finding doesn’t mean statins should be used to treat brain trauma, because of the potential for severe side effects that include muscle injury.

The anti-inflammatory effect of statins has been linked to better survival after stroke and from other types of trauma in studies.

Public health officials have also suggested supporting studies for the use of statins during flu pandemics to prevent deaths, due to the effect of the drugs on the immune system, low cost and wide availability.

Schneider says if statins can help people recover from brain injury, they could be used prophylactically for football players and soldiers in combat.

The new study suggests another possible use for cholesterol lowering drugs. Statin drugs might help people with brain injury survive and recover more fully.