Do Statins Really Cause Memory Loss
Questions about whether statin use is associated with memory loss have circulated for years. Now the results of a new study that looked at this question and involved about 1 million people have been published, but has the question been answered?
Various side effects have been noted from use of the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires warnings be dispensed along with statin prescriptions for the following concerns:
- Cognitive impairment has been reported by some individuals who have taken statins
- An increased risk of raised blood sugar levels and the development of type 2 diabetes
- Some medications interact with the statin lovastatin, which can increase the risk of muscle damage
The new study, conducted by Brian L. Strom, MD, MPH, of Rutgers University and his colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania, involved analysis of data from The Health Improvement Network database. Investigators compared 482,543 statin users with two control groups: an equal number of individuals who did not use any type of cholesterol-lowering (lipid-lowering) drugs, and 26,484 individuals who used nonstatin lipid-lowering drugs.
The statins taken by the users included atorvastatin, cerivastatin, fluvastatin, pravastatin, rosuvastatin, or simvastatin; lovastatin, mevastatin, and pitavastatin were not available in the UK, which is where the data came from. In addition, a secondary case-crossover study was done. Information about memory loss was gathered using diagnostic codes.
Here’s what the investigators found:
- An increased risk of memory loss during the 30 days following the start of either the statins or the nonstatins when compared with individuals who took no lipid-lowering drugs at all
- No association was seen when comparing statin users with individuals who took other types of lipid-lowering drugs
What does this mean? The authors concluded that their finding “suggests that either all LLDs [lipid-lowering drugs] cause acute memory loss, or perhaps more likely, that the association is the result of detection bias.” This means that memory loss may be noted in individuals taking statins or other lipid-lowering drugs because they have more contact with their doctors than people not taking such medications.
It should be noted that Dr. Strom receives research funding from AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb and is a consultant to Abbott, AstraZeneca, Bayer Healthcare LLC, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Novartis, and Pfizer. Sean Hennessy, PharmD, PhD receives research funding from AstraZeneca and Bristol-Myers Squibb and educational funds from Pfizer. In addition, he is a consultant for AstraZeneca, Bayer Healthcare LLC, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Merck. Abbott, AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, Novartis, and Pfizer make anti-cholesterol drugs.
Food and Drug Administration
Strom B et al. Statin Therapy and Risk of Acute Memory Impairment. JAMA Internal Medicine 2015 Jun 8 online