A group of drugs usually prescribed to reduce cholesterol could lower people’s risk of developing Parkinson’s or similar conditions, according to new research.
Published last week in the journal Neurology, the new study showed that statin use in thousands of participants, on average, reduced the risk of parkinsonism, a term for a group of neurodegenerative conditions with symptoms generally associated with Parkinson’s. The six-year study also found statins lowered a patient’s chances of developing brain atherosclerosis, a condition which restricts blood flow to the brain and can contribute to parkinsonism.
Statins, according to the Mayo Clinic, are prescribed to lower cholesterol levels and therefore reduce the risk of heart disease or stroke in a patient. The drugs work by inhibiting an enzyme necessary for the body to produce cholesterol. The connection between statin use and lower plaque in blood vessels, therefore promoting blood flow, was already understood, and that property was further investigated with this most recent study.
The Centers for Disease Control reports the most commonly used statins are simvastatin and atorvastatin, also known by their brand names Zocor and Lipitor, respectively. Together, these two drugs make up well over half of statins used in the U.S.
The risk of high cholesterol increases with age, as does the use of statins, according to the most recent CDC data available. A 2014 analysis found nearly half of seniors over 75 were using statins. More than a quarter of Americans at large, regardless of age, were on statins after a large jump in the previous decade. (In 2003, only one in five Americans used the medication.) As for adults over 40, more than 70% of people with cardiovascular disease, 60% of those with diabetes, and about half of those with high cholesterol used statins.
In an article from Neuroscience News, the study’s lead author, Dr. Shahram Oveisgharan, MD, of Rush University, said there may be a path forward for statins to be used as medication for parkinsonism.
“Our results are exciting because movement problems in older adults that come under the umbrella of parkinsonism are common, often debilitating and generally untreatable,” Oveisgharan said. “More research is needed, but statins could be a therapeutic option in the future to help reduce the effects of parkinsonism in the general population of older adults, not just people with high cholesterol or who are at risk for stroke.”