KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Millions of people who take statins to lower cholesterol could get an added benefit. Research published Monday suggests a lower risk for Alzheimer's Disease.
Ted Hodges keeps track of his medications on an app. At age 28, Hodges takes 20 pills a day because he's had a heart transplant. Among his meds is a statin for cholesterol.
"Just as a part of the heart transplant protocol. Just to make sure my arteries and everything is clear," said Hodges.
Regular use of a statin might also lower Hodges' risk as he ages for Alzheimer's, the mind-robbing disease that affects five million Americans.
Researchers looked at Medicare data on 400,000 statin users. Regular use was associated with a 15 percent lower risk in women and a 12 percent lower risk in men.
A specialist at Saint Luke's Hospital said most people with Alzheimer's have mixed dementia, meaning they also have some cognitive trouble from vascular disease or plaque build-up in brain vessels. He said statins may help by reducing that form of dementia.
"Maybe we're getting rid of one component or maybe indeed there is still a possibility that certain statins prevent beta amyloid accumulation," said Dr. Stan Fisher.
Those are the plaques that build up between nerve cells in people with Alzheimer's.
The study found that while all statins seem to have a positive effect, it was more consistent with atorvastatin and simvastatin across most racial groups.
Dr. Fisher emphasized the study showed only an association and not cause and effect.
"I strongly encourage my patients who have high cholesterol to stay on statins to prevent vascular risk factors -- to prevent heart attack, prevent stroke and maybe modify their risk for global cognitive decline if not specifically Alzheimer's," he said.
Dr. Fisher said it's too early for people to go on statins just for Alzheimer's prevention. The study is in the journal JAMA Neurology.