Are Statin Drugs Stealing Your Memory?

By David Blyweiss, M.D.

February 01, 2012

  • 12.1 billion reasons why you may be taking a statin drug
  • Is it dementia… or a mind-robbing thief?
  • What you MUST do to save your brain right now

A few years ago there was a big hoopla over adding statin drugs to drinking water. Some people believed these drugs were so important everyone should get their share of them. And since we’re talking about drinking water here, it really did include everyone – even babies and little kids. I found this extremely alarming.

Then there was talk of serving statins with fast food meals. This message was just as disturbing. Eat all of the junk food you want then clear out your arteries with a pill?

That’s not a message I want to send to my patients. And I certainly don’t want my children buying into it.

And, just a few months ago, we received a message from England. To be specific, it came from a respected professor at the University of Oxford.

This guy works with a lot of large-scale studies on heart attacks and vascular problems. And he is entirely on board when it comes to dispensing statin drugs. In fact, he suggests everyone over the age of 50 should take them; even if they don’t have any current risk of heart disease. And even if they don’t have cholesterol issues.

Say what!?

I hate to be blunt, but this is a bunch of bull-hockey. Nobody ever died from a statin drug “deficiency.”

Make no mistake about it. These are very real drugs with very real side effects. And they aren’t minor. They include liver damage, muscle pain and weakness (statin myopathy,) nerve damage, increased blood sugar, type 2 diabetes, rhabdomyolysis (the breakdown of muscle tissue that can lead to potentially fatal kidney failure) and more.

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But the companies making billions of dollars selling these pharmaceuticals aren’t going to focus in on any of these negative consequences. They’ve got a marketing engine in place that produced $12.1 billion in sales for Lipitor and Crestor alone in 2011.

That gives them 12.1 billion great reasons to downplay the negative effects of these drugs and promote the good.

Sure, these drugs lower LDL cholesterol. For awhile there were even claims statins could help reduce Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

But they don’t do much of anything to raise good HDL cholesterol, which is much more important than lowering LDL.

And now we’re also finding out the FDA has been investigating reports of cognitive impairment from statin use for years!
Reports of memory loss, forgetfulness, confusion and even short-term amnesia involve all statin products. And these types of complaints have been reported by all age groups.

But only recently has it gained the attention of the FDA. They finally admit statins may “increase the risk of brain-related effects like memory loss and confusion.”

The thing is, some researchers have questioned this potential side-effect for years. In fact, a couple of small trials back in 2000 and 2004 linked statins to problems with cognitive function.

In the first study, cognitive performance was assessed in 194 healthy adults with high LDL cholesterol. They were divided into groups receiving either placebo or 20 mg. of lovastatin daily for six months and given repeated tests. These included tests of attention, phychomotor speed (like maze and pegboard,) mental flexibility, working memory and memory retrieval.

At the end of the study period, the placebo group improved significantly in all five areas of cognitive testing. The lovastatin group, however, did not show normal levels of improvement.

In other words, their normal learning process appeared to be impaired. The second study, using simvastatin, had similar results.

While the FDA says these problems generally aren’t serious because they tend to go away after a patient stops taking the drug, I’m looking at it from a different angle.

For starters, a lot people taking statins are in their later years. That makes it very easy to pass these symptoms off to age-related mental decline. So you have to ask yourself this. How many people who appear to have dementia are actually suffering from statin drug side effects?

But there’s another important factor to consider here.

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You may not realize it, but your brain needs cholesterol. And that’s a big problem when it comes to statins. They don’t just reduce cholesterol production in your body. They may also affect the cholesterol levels in your brain.

When you deprive your brain of cholesterol it affects the release of crucial neurotransmitters that keep your memory and brain-processes working right. And this could be a big problem with it comes to mental processing.

Let me put it this way. When this delicate balance in your brain is disturbed it can lead to mind-altering events that resemble dementia. Maybe even Alzheimer’s disease.

So if you’re a statin drug user, what can you do to protect your brain and keep your heart healthy at the same time?
Many doctors are very focused on decreasing your levels of LDL cholesterol. And that’s what statin drugs are for.

Everybody thinks LDL is the bad guy. But the truth is it performs a very important function in your body. LDL cholesterol circulates through your bloodstream and patches up damage that occurs on the walls of your blood vessels and arteries. It’s like applying spackle to a damaged wall.

Then HDL comes in and picks up all the debris left behind from the “spackling” project. But if you don’t have enough HDL cholesterol, it can’t do its job. So it leaves a sticky patch behind and debris continues to accumulate. This leads to plaque build up and arterial blockages.

However, when you’ve got plenty of good HDL it can keep your arteries scrubbed clean. And it turns out your brain may need some of that scrubbing action, too.

A recent study followed 1,130 seniors for an average of four years. None of them had memory problems or dementia at the beginning of the study. But by the end of it 101 people were diagnosed with probable or possible Alzheimer’s disease.

When cholesterol levels were compared, researchers discovered there was a 40% higher risk of Alzheimer’s in people with low HDL (below 55 mg/dl.) compared to those with higher HDL (above 55 mg/dl.)

So it’s vitally important to get those HDL numbers up to protect both your arteries and your brain health.

Here’s what you can do to boost HDL cholesterol…

Take a policosanol supplement. In studies, 10 to 20 mg of policosanol daily raises HDL cholesterol by 8% to 15%. It also reduces LDL by up to 29%.

Add niacin to your vitamin routine. Niacin is a B vitamin that can increase HDL by as much as 35 percent. While a lot of people prefer the “no flush” version (the kind that prevents your skin from temporarily turning warm and red,) it isn’t the most effective. I prefer regular “immediate release” niacin. Just take 250 mg. before bedtime.

Get plenty of healthy fats. Foods high in monounsaturated fats like olive oil, nuts and avocados may boost HDL. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish might also help. Inuit Eskimos who get high amounts of these healthy fats tend to have increased HDL cholesterol.

Ditch the empty carbs. People on high-carb diets full of pasta, bread and sugar—even those who exercise frequently—tend to have lower HDL levels than those who eat plenty of protein and good fats along with veggies and whole grains.

Exercise, exercise and exercise. I know you get tired of hearing about the benefits of exercise. But putting your body into motion is one of the best things you can do for your health. And according to the Mayo Clinic, you can increase your HDL 5% in only two months with brisk exercise. Just 30 minutes five times a week will do the trick. Walk, run, swim or ride a bike. Like Nike says… Just Do It!

Don’t let low HDL cholesterol or statin meds steal your brain. Once you take control over your own health you can get off of these mind-robbing drugs. And you’ll be protecting your heart at the same time.

So get moving! Eat your healthy fats and just say “no” to processed flours, sugars and empty carbs. Add policosanol and niacin to your vitamin regimen.

It’s super easy. And in the end, you’ll feel all the better for it.

Resources:

Lindsley CW. The top prescription drugs of 2011 in the United States: antipsychotics and antidepressants once again lead CNS therapeutics. ACS Chem Neurosci. 2012 Aug 15;3(8):630-1.

Muldoon MF, Barger SD, Ryan CM, Flory JD, Lehoczky JP, Matthews KA, Manuck SB. Effects of lovastatin on cognitive function and psychological well-being. Am J Med. 2000 May;108(7):538-46.

Muldoon MF, Ryan CM, Sereika SM, Flory JD, Manuck SB. Randomized trial of the effects of simvastatin on cognitive functioning in hypercholesterolemic adults. Am J Med. 2004 Dec 1;117(11):823-9.

Iowa State University (2009, February 26). Cholesterol-reducing Drugs May Lessen Brain Function, Says Researcher. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 26, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¬ /releases/2009/02/090223221430.htm

Reitz C, Tang MX, Schupf N, Manly JJ, Mayeux R, Luchsinger JA. Association of higher levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol in elderly individuals and lower risk of late-onset Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol. 2010 Dec;67(12):1491-7.

Gouni-Berthold I, Berthold HK. Policosanol: clinical pharmacology and therapeutic significance of a new lipid-lowering agent. Am Heart J. 2002 Feb;143(2):356-65

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