How Statins Affect Brain Function

| August 30, 2012 | Comments (11)

While some doctors and researchers seem keen to downplay the potential hazards of statins, their use is linked with a range of unwanted effects including muscle weakness, muscle pain, liver damage and kidney damage. These are all well-recognised side-effects from this form of medication. However, there is also some thought that statins can affect brain function too, and in particular may impact on memory and basic brain function. If this is the case, then one might expect statins to be particularly problematic in individuals who have compromised brain functioning to begin with, such as those with Alzheimer’s disease.

A group of US-based researchers decided to test this idea in a group of elderly individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia) [1]. All of the individuals in this study were taking statins at the start of the study. The research involved taking these individuals off statins for 6 weeks, and then putting individuals back on their statin medication for another 6 weeks. During the study, individuals had their mental functioning assessed including with a tool known as the ‘mini mental state examination’ (MMSE). This test is designed to assess brain functions such as memory, the production and understanding of language, problem-solving and decision-making – what researchers and doctors often refer to as ‘cognition’.

This research revealed that withdrawal of statins led to a statistically significant improvement in cognition in the study subjects. Re-starting statin therapy led to cognition worsening again. The implication here is that for individuals with dementia, statin treatment might further compromise brain function and, along with it, quality of life and dependence of carers.

Just this week, I saw an elderly man in practice who came with a main diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, and a past history of more than one ‘mini-strokes’ (known as transient ischaemic attacks). One of the medications which he takes is simvastatin. His daughter wondered whether this might be somehow compromising her father’s health, including his mental functioning. The only legitimate answer to her question is ‘yes’. But as I went on to explain, it is in my view highly unlikely that any problems here are likely to be entertained by her father’s regular doctor.

The problem is that most doctors will see sitting in front of them an elderly man with Parkinson’s disease and a history of mini-strokes, and imagine any compromise in his functioning will be related to these things, not a statin drug which was started several years ago. It might be, however, that the statin drug is genuinely compromising his functioning, and it’s certainly legitimate for this possibility to at least be entertained.

Of course precisely the same situation may arise for individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and it seems reasonable to wonder how many individuals might benefit from a trial without their statin medication. It certainly conceivable that many would benefit, as would perhaps other individuals on statins who find their energy levels and mental functioning is not what it should be.


Here’s to a healthy heart

Dr John Briffa
for The Cholesterol Truth

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1. Padala KP, et al. The Effect of HMG: CoA Reductase Inhibitors on Cognition in Patients With Alzheimer’s Dementia: A Prospective Withdrawal and Rechallenge Pilot Study. Am J Geriatr Pharmacother. 2012 Aug 22. [Epub ahead of print]

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Category: Latest Statin Research

Comments (11)

Testimonials are based on the personal experience of individuals. Results are not typical and the potential benefits of taking any drug or supplement may vary depending on your individual needs and health requirements. Please consult your GP before making any changes to your medical regimen.

  1. George says:

    If you really have to be on a Statin, try a food statin. They are about 10-20% the strength of a Pharma Statin with similar results and very few side affects. An added bonus is they are inexpensive.

    The ideal food statin is a mix of a quarter cup of cottage cheese combined with 2 TBsp of Ground Flaxseed. The flaxseed is a statin and a lipid. The cottage cheese chemically reacts with the flaxseed making it water soluble so it can get into your blood stream. It’s called the Budwig protocol, and it’s verified in many scientific studies. I would take it every other morning if you have issues, or once a week if you just want to guard against a heart attack/cancer (it’s an immune system/ circulation enhancer).

  2. Jay says:

    I suffered mental confusion, memory loss, terrible sleep disturbances and amnesia while on Lipitor and pravastatin. After taking Livalo, I developed central, not obstructive, sleep apnea, ie, my brain did not signal my body to breathe. I also had bouts of A fib. Been off all statins for 7 months. No A fib, no daytime fatigue, sleeping like a baby at night and feeling much better. I believe statins are much more dangerous to the brain than reported by drug companies. I believe people on statins are dying in their sleep because central sleep apnea caused by statins, in turn, causes fatal cardiac arrhythmias. Has anyone else experienced transient central sleep apnea while on statins?

  3. My husband is 84, he was put on statins years ago due to the finding of A-Fib, he had no cholestoral problem but cardiac Dr said Statins help with the cumadin in his case. I started noticing a few months into taking the statins, he was changing, becoming forgetful I asked my PC Dr. If it could posdibly be the statins. He told me, stop the Statin drug for 2-3 weeks as statins remain in the system for 45 days and see if there is any difference, well there definitely was a difference, my high functioning husband ( at that time 75) was again functioning as he should, but I had to take him back to cardiac Dr to have the statins stopped, he did not do that, but he did change him to another Statin on a ” must need” basis. He continued on the high dose statins, going from Zocor, Liptor & finally Vytorin, in 2011 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease I asked the neurologyst not to put that in his records as I believed the worsened memory loss was doe to the Statin us, she did put it in the report. 2013 Pet Scan done which should that he most likely/probably had Alzheimers. He has been graded as a late stage six to an early stage seven ( going by AD Assoc scale) although his memory has gone, his brain damaged by what statins do to it, he is high functioning, can read newspapers, books, read to me punctuate, absolutely no incontinence, all grooming and dressing skills intact. We see a phschiatryst every three months, he cannot understand or explain the reason for the above statement.

  4. Gisela Eiler says:

    I have a neuromuscular disease and my neurologist cardiologist and primary care physician want me to take statins. I tried most of them years ago and have stopped taking them due to severe side effects, yet all of my doctors are pushing me to take them again. It almost sounds like I would die if I didn’t take them, yet they are not listening to me. My cholesterol
    is not that high nor are my triglycerides. I am very careful what I eat and eat mostly vegetables very
    low fat meats and fruit and gluten free grains . This statin hunt which I feel it is is annoying and irritating in that I have to explain with every visit that I have a serious, incurable and progressive neuromuscular disease What is wrong with these doctors.

    • Editor says:

      Hi Gisela,

      No doctor can force you to take any drug. Stick to your guns and good luck coping with progressive neuromuscular disease. It cannot be an easy road you are travelling on.

  5. Janice says:

    I was on statins for 12 years. I have controlled high blood pressure and high ldl cholesterol. I noticed cognitive impairment, forgetting words, losing the thread in discussions etc. I was disturbed by it as I had always had excellent vocabulary and mental skills. I also had other symptoms. I became unable to sing which I believe was to do with control of my stomach muscles. I also had very painful legs, cramps, indigestion, reflux, episodes of night hallucinations, migraine aura & word blindness. I investigated side effects of statins and decided to stop taking them. Instead I now take enzymes and vitamin B3. I have fully recovered. I have not had my cholesterol tested.

  6. Joanne Elliott says:

    I am 71 years old and have been diagnosed with Ahlzeimers (sp). I take 8 pills a day. How do I know which prescriptions contain statins? Thanks! Joanne

  7. vera bentley says:

    i received a traumatic closed head injury when i was 17, im now 48. last year my doctor prescribed me statins 4 my (not seriously)elevated cholesterol. i started reading about the probs caused by long term statin use n stopped taking it, im not the ‘quickest off the block’ so didnt notice a change in my ‘brain function’ but have recently started rubbing coconut oil in2 my skin n using it in cooking. do u think im helping myself & my husband with swapping over 2 coconut oil instead? could u pls explain how 2 me.
    thanx 🙂

  8. Stephen Wyman says:

    I have been a type 1 diabetic for 49 years as of Sept. 2012. I was on Simvastatin for 1.5 years and complained to my doctor about memory problems and he denied that it was from statins. Also my glucose A1c tests we’re running at 9 and I couldn’t get my blood sugars under control no matter how much insulin I took. I stopped taking statins 2.5 months ago (on my own) and my brain function has greatly improved. I’ve had to cut my insulin by 27% and my blood test as of 3 days ago showed my A1c at 7.4! I’ve replaced the statins with non-prescription systemic enzymes which claim to disolve all plaque and blood clots from the body in addition to many, many other benefits (too many to list here). Systemic enzymes have been used in Europe and Japan for more than 50 yrs and more than 150 million people have used them. Look them up on line and you will wonder why our doctors know nothing about them.

  9. sgt says:

    Why won’t doctors tell you about these possibilities from the start? Are they all stupid, or they just don’t give a da*n.

    Had I been told, I would have opted out rather than spending all these years in misery searching for a ’cause/condition/disease’ that doesn’t exist!!!

    Is any of this reversible???

  10. Linda says:

    I’ve been on statins for years! I believe my doctor told me it was to protect my heart? I’ve been a Type 1 diabetic since age 5 (more than 40 years). More recently, I was diagnosed with MS and have been having cognitive issues that have been attributed to that. I’ve had muscle pain for years and visited several doctors trying to find the cause. I’ve often wondered whether the statins could be the cause.

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Testimonials are based on the personal experience of individuals. Results are not typical and the potential benefits of taking any drug or supplement may vary depending on your individual needs and health requirements. Please consult your GP before making any changes to your medical regimen.