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Statin Use May Slightly Reduce Risk of Parkinsonís Disease

New research suggests that the class of popular cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins may play a role in protecting people from developing Parkinson’s disease (PD).  The study, published in the March 2012 edition of the journal Archives of Neurology, found a modest link between statin use and rates of Parkinson’s disease.

Scientists have hypothesized in the past that statins may play both helpful and harmful roles in Parkinson’s.  Statins are known to reduce inflammation, which is believed to play a role in Parkinson’s.  However, statins have also been shown to reduce levels of co-enzyme Q10, an antioxidant that may protect against Parkinson’s.

Past studies evaluating the link between statins and Parkinson’s have had mixed results, with some showing a significant connection and others showing none at all. However, these studies were limited by design flaws.  For example, they were neither large nor prospective (meaning studies that first documented statins use, and only later in follow-up documented which participants developed Parkinson’s).  In the present study, researchers from Harvard University led by Xiang Gao, M.D., Ph.D., carried out a prospective survey study over 12 years of 38,192 men and 90,874 women to determine whether the individuals had been taking statins, and whether those individuals subsequently developed Parkinson’s.

Results

  • In total, 644 people in the study developed Parkinson’s.
  • Statin use was associated with a 25 percent decrease in the risk of developing Parkinson’s.  It should be cautioned that this result was only marginally significant.
  • A person’s age when initiating statin therapy was significant in determining their risk of developing Parkinson’s.  People who began using statins before age 60 had a 70 percent lower risk of developing Parkinson’s.  People who began using statins after the age of 60 did not see a reduced risk. 
  • Statins only showed a benefit for those who took the drugs six years or more.

What Does it Mean?

While this study finds a modest relationship between statin use and lower PD risk, the evidence for its use as a preventative therapy remains to be determined.

This study had advantages over previous studies.  First, its sample size is quite large, and second, it followed people prospectively for a long time period.  But it also has limitations.  The researchers were not always able to determine whether the subjects were taking statins or other cholesterol-lowering drugs, and they also were unable to determine which type of statin was being used – a major issue because different statins may not be able to enter the brain as readily as others. 

As in other epidemiological studies, an association does not necessarily mean causation.  For example, it is possible that people who use statins regularly are more likely to adhere to the Mediterranean type diet (which, in the same groups, has shown to be linked to lower risk of Parkinson’s).  Nevertheless, this link between statin use and lower Parkinson’s risk may provide direction for research that could perhaps lead to a better understanding of Parkinson’s in general.

Reference: Gao, X., Simon, K.C., Schwarzschild, M.A., Ascherio, A. Prospective Study of Stain Use and Risk of Parkinson Disease. The Archives of Neurology, March 2012, 69(3):380-384; doi: 10.1001/archneurol.2011.1060.

Source Date: Dec 31 1969