Casting doubt on previous conjectures, a new study suggests that statins do not protect patients against Parkinson’s disease (PD).
 
“Although some have proposed that statins might be a ‘cure-all’ drug, this might be a case where what’s good for the heart isn’t good for the brain,” explained study author Xuemei Huang, MD, PhD, professor of neurology and vice chair for research at Penn State College of Medicine, in a press release.
 
Several recent epidemiology studies have proposed a link between statin use and lower PD incidence, stirring some researchers to theorize that the cholesterol-lowering medications may protect against the brain disorder.
 
However, the authors of those studies did not consider participants’ cholesterol readings before statin use became widespread, which might have skewed their conclusions.
 
“Statins have been very important for preventing and treating vascular disease, but we need more research to understand if in some cases there is collateral damage,” Dr. Huang said.
 
For their study, which was published in Movement Disorders, Dr. Huang and her colleagues prospectively examined statin use, cholesterol levels, and PD risk in participants from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. Statin use and plasma lipids were assessed at a baseline visit (1987 to 1989) and 3 visits every 3 years thereafter until 1998. While statin use was rare at the first visit (0.57%), it increased to 11.2% at the last visit, the authors noted.
 
The data suggested that statin use before 1998 was associated with significantly higher PD risk after 1998, even after the researchers adjusted for total cholesterol and other confounding variables.
 
“Statin use over the course of the study did not protect against PD, and in fact appeared to increase PD risk in long term,” Dr. Huang said. “Although the analysis on statin use and PD was based on a fairly small number of PD cases (56), this preliminary data argues against the hypothesis that statins protects against PD.”
 
Currently, an estimated 43 million Americans either receive or are eligible for statin therapy, though recent clinical guidelines updates are expected to expand that population to 56 million.