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Mature Focus: Statins and Alzheimer’s

High use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs may be associated with a reduced risk for Alzheimer’s disease, a recent analysis of Medicare data suggests. However, the reduction in risk varies by type of statin as well as among patients of different ethnic backgrounds, so the findings must be confirmed in clinical trials, according to a new article published online in JAMA Neurology.

The researchers, led by Julie M. Zissimopoulos, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California-Los Angeles, examined claims data from about 400,000 Medicare beneficiaries who used statins to examine the relationship between the drugs’ use and the onset of Alzheimer’s. They studied high and low exposure to the four most commonly prescribed statin drugs: simvastatin, atorvastatin, pravastatin and rosuvastatin.

During the period studied, 2009-2013, 1.72 percent of women and 1.32 percent of men received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease annually. Among the most significant findings regarding statin use were:

  • High exposure to statins [defined as at least half of the days in a given year for at least two years from 2006 through 2008] was associated with a 15 percent decreased risk of Alzheimer’s for women and a 12 percent reduced risk for men, results which varied by race/ethnicity and sex.
  • The average annual number of days of statin use was lower for black and Hispanic individuals than for white individuals.
  • Statin use was linked to lower Alzheimer’s risk for Hispanic men, white women and men, and black women; no significant difference in risk was seen for black men who had used any statin for any period of time.
  • High exposure to simvastatin was associated with a lower risk for white, Hispanic and black women, as well as white and Hispanic men.
  • Atorvastatin was associated with reduced Alzheimer’s risk for white, black, and Hispanic women and Hispanic men.
  • Pravastatin and rosuvastatin were associated with reduced risk for white women.

The authors noted that their results do not prove a direct relationship between statin use and reduced Alzheimer’s risk, however.

“This suggests that certain patients, facing multiple, otherwise equal statin alternatives for hyperlipidemia treatment, may reduce AD [Alzheimer’s disease] risk by using a particular statin. The right statin type for the right person at the right time may provide a relatively inexpensive means to lessen the burden of AD,” the study concluded.

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