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Study Finds Statins May Prevent Dementia

      LONDON, Nov. 9 (UPI) --Statins, drugs widely touted for their ability to save lives by lowering so-called bad cholesterol, may also prevent dementia, according to a new study.

      The study by researchers who analyzed medical records of more than 1, 300 people found that those who regularly took statins were about 70 percent less likely to develop dementia than persons who didn''t take the drugs.

      This is the second study in less than a month that suggests statins may prevent Alzheimer''s disease. The Alzheimer''s Association responded Thursday by issuing a call for "appropriate clinical trials using statins as a potential preventive for Alzheimer''s disease."

      Dr. Bill Thies, vice president of medical and scientific affairs at the Alzheimer''s Association said, "These are drugs with pretty good safety records and that encourages us to think that the risk is not too high to recommend a trial."

      The latest study is published in the Nov. 11 issue of The Lancet, while the first study appeared in the October issue of Archives of Neurology. Both studies, said Thies, "are observational and so need to be confirmed in a placebo-controlled trial."

      Co-author of the latest study, Dr. David Drachman, said no one could say for sure that statins are associated with a decreased risk of dementia, but "we do know that people with normal cholesterol levels or who take other drugs to reduce cholesterol did not have this same benefit." He said, therefore, that it is likely that some other property of the lipid-lower drugs explains the reduced risk.

      In addition to lowering levels of the harmful LDL cholesterol statins also raise levels of endothelial nitric oxide synthaze and reduce endothelin-1. These compounds dilate tiny blood vessels and increase blood flow to the brain and other organs, said Drachman, who works at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Worcester. This increased blood flow may play a protective role, he said.

      Drachman and Dr. Herschel Jick of Boston University School of Medicine studied the medical records of persons receiving medical care at 368 general medical practices in the United Kingdom. They identified three groups of patients all aged 50 or older: patients taking lipid lowering drugs, patients who were diagnosed with untreated high cholesterol and another randomly selected group of patients. From this large group of patients, they identified 284 cases of dementia and matched those cases to 1,084 non-demented patients.

      When Jick and Drachman checked the medical records of both the dementia cases and the 1,084 controls they discovered that patients taking statins had a 70% lower risk of dementia, Jick said.

      "If this observation can be substantiated in an randomized study, the implication is huge," Jick said in an interview with United Press International. According to the Alzheimer''s Association some 4 million Americans have the disease and 19 million Americans have a family member with the disease.

      Drachman noted that other recent studies have suggested that the benefits of statins extend beyond cholesterol-lowering, for example some researchers have reported that statin use can reduce fracture in persons with osteoporosis.

      But Drachman cautioned against jumping on the "statin bandwagon." He said, "the important thing is that this is one observational study. One study doesn''t guarantee an association, but assuming our observation is correct this study points the way to looking at another possible avenue for preventing or delaying dementia. But first the observation needs to be confirmed in a randomized, placebo-controlled study." (Reported by Peggy Peck in Cleveland, Ohio.)

(C) 2000 UPI All Rights Reserved.




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