March 01, 2009
Statins Cut Needed Cholesterol Synthesis In Brain?
Statins might cause problems for some people by reducing brain synthesis of cholesterol.
AMES, Iowa -- Research by an Iowa State University scientist suggests
that cholesterol-reducing drugs known as statins may lessen brain
Yeon-Kyun Shin, a biophysics professor in the department of
biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology, says the results of his
study show that drugs that inhibit the liver from making cholesterol may
also keep the brain from making cholesterol, which is vital to
efficient brain function.
"If you deprive cholesterol from the brain, then you directly affect
the machinery that triggers the release of neurotransmitters," said
Shin. "Neurotransmitters affect the data-processing and memory
functions. In other words -- how smart you are and how well you remember
Statins are quite the mixed bag. On the one hand, statins appear to reduce the risk of dementia. Makes sense since statins probably reduce the risk of clogged arteries in the brain. They also appear to have anti-inflammatory effects independent of their cholesterol-lowering effects. But a long history of anecdotal reports of memory problems taking statins suggests that at least for some people statins cause memory problems.
If you are really lucky you already have low cholesterol. If you are moderately lucky (and have the needed discipline) you can lower your cholesterol with diet and exercise. Otherwise, you need to consider taking a statin. But try other measures before taking that step. Statins are not without risk.
Statins raise blood levels of Vitamin D, all of statin's benefits come from that fact. Bring your Vitamin D level up to optimum level of 70. Then ditch statins to save your brain, kidneys, liver and to reduce your chances for cancer and diabetes.
It is good you are bringing up this study and educating us. There is a growing body of literature that makes us concerned about the potential negative effects of statins on the brain - at least in the long term.
Statins reduce the production of CoQ-10 in the mitochondria. By taking a statin, you are messing with the most fundamental biochemical process in your body (metabolism) in order to reduce an unwanted side effect. This is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. There is no reason to take statins.
There are easier ways to raise your vitamin D levels than taking statins, such as taking vitamin D supplements. Try 5000 iu/day in an oil-filled gelcap. Vitamin D, A, and K are all fat-soluble and hence the solid pill varieties aren't taken up by the gut as effectively. LD50 for Vitamin D is around 3,500,000 iu/day/kg of body weight, BTW.
Statins have an enormous number of negative side-effects (myopathy, cognitive problems, etc.) to go along with an almost negligible beneficial effect.
The effect that statins have in reducing the risk of dementia also requires that you continue taking statins. If you take statins and then stop, your risk of dementia shoots up beyond what it would have been had you never taken statins in the first place. So they are something you should evaluate carefully before beginning to take them, as they represent a commitment in a way that other drugs without long-term effects do not.
Personally I wouldn't touch them with a ten-foot pole - not least because I'm not even convinced that high serum levels of cholesterol cause problems (I believe they may be a symptom rather than a cause).
I am going off statins this month, just after my next appointment with my doctor. My previous physician really wanted me to take them even though my cholesterol being only a tiny amount over the guidelines and not increasing. There seemed no good reason not to take them.
Result: Cholesterol did fall a lot. So did blood pressure, which again was roughly high normal.
But I had changed my eating habits at the same time. Mostly because I retired and now prepare most of my own meals.
Even so, I think it best to be wary of these assertions. We see a lot of what I call Anaemic Statistics in science articles. It would not be hard to prove statistically that we all died before the age of 20 by adding up the risks cited in publications. I am rather certain lead based paint alone has killed a billion people in Yugoslavia.
It is never easy trying to figure it out. Very complex systems require very complex understanding to be able to predict how best to intervene.
One problem with taking statins is that some will be worse off as a result. But one can't predict (at least today) whether one will be among those who get a benefit or net detriment from taking statins. We need the cheap DNA sequencing that will lower the costs of identifying all the genetic alleles that tell us which people will get harmful side effects or net benefits from taking each drug.
I think someone in their 30s would be better off not taking statins because the heart attack risk will still be low for them in the next 5 years and 5 years from now genetic testing will show whether the statins are worth taking for each individual. Okay, maybe it'll take 7 or 8 years. But we are getting pretty close to a far better ability to predict who will get harmful side effects from assorted drugs.