Did You Know…that cholesterol-lowering drugs may increase your risk for memory loss?
One in six Americans has high cholesterol, a condition that increases your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The standard treatment protocol is to put patients on statins—a type of drug that blocks a chemical in the liver from producing cholesterol, thus helping to lower cholesterol levels and reduce the likelihood of succumbing to heart disease in the process. But, like other pharmaceuticals, statins come with side effects; liver and muscle damage, increased blood sugar levels, a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and digestive problems to name a few.
Many patients have reported that statins adversely affect their cognitive function, provoking memory loss, forgetfulness, and confusion. A 2015 study published in the prestigious medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins may indeed cause memory loss. The results, however, are subject to interpretation, and mainstream media and the researchers themselves may be skewing the findings in favor of statins and continued profits. Let’s take a closer look at the study, and you can be the judge.
Your Memory on Statins
Researchers from Rutgers University and the University of Pennsylvania compared the health outcomes of 482,542 statin users to an equal number of non-statin users. Results showed a strong association between statin use and acute memory loss within 30 days of statin use. Here’s where the findings get a bit stickier. Researchers also compared the health outcomes of the nearly 500,000 statin users to those of 26,482 users of nonstatin cholesterol-lowering drugs. Subsequent memory loss was roughly equal between the two groups, an outcome that seems to suggest that cholesterol-lowering drugs in general may impair memory function.
In the researchers’ words: “Both statin and nonstatin LLDs were strongly associated with acute memory loss in the first 30 days following exposure in users compared with nonusers but not when compared with each other. Thus, either all LLDs cause acute memory loss regardless of drug class or the association is the result of detection bias rather than a causal association.”
Researchers—and the mainstream media—have been quick to chock the findings up to detection bias, rather than an actual side effect of cholesterol-lowering drugs. Detection bias is considered an influencing factor because people are more likely to spot health problems when starting a new drug.
Detection bias is conveniently being used as a scapegoat for cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins that may be sacrificing your memory. You see, the mainstream media’s take on the study—that statins don’t pose a threat to your memory—can be legitimately called into question. After all, pharmaceutical advertising dollars provided by the very companies that manufacture statins keep these media outlets afloat. By all means form your own opinion, but the possibility of detection bias doesn’t offer definitive proof that statins and nonstatin cholesterol-lowering drugs are safe or effective.
It’s important to discuss the potential side effects and risk of statin use with your healthcare provider to make sure the benefit outweighs the risk for you. In the meantime, UHR will stay up to date on the latest statin research!