Statins may offer significant protection from Parkinson’s disease

CHICAGO — Statins, the common drug taken to help lower cholesterol, could also slash the risk of Parkinson’s disease by more than 15 percent, according to a new study. Researchers at Rush University in Chicago say the medication may protect older people from brain disorders, as well as reducing the chances of them suffering a heart attack or stroke.

There are more than 137,000 people living with Parkinson’s disease and other brain disorders which can cause severe movement problems. These conditions, known collectively as parkinsonism, affect around one in 500 people, with symptoms like tremors and stiffness usually starting to show after the age of 50.

Now scientists are saying statins could be a simple way for people to tip the odds in their favor.

“Our results suggest people using statins may have a lower risk of parkinsonism and that may be partly caused by the protective effect statins may have on arteries in the brain,” says study author Dr. Shahram Oveisgharan in a statement. “Our results are exciting, because movement problems in older adults that come under the umbrella of parkinsonism are common, often debilitating and generally untreatable.”

They looked at 2,841 elderly people who did not have movement problems, 33 percent of whom were taking the anti-cholesterol pills. Participants were invited for a checkup every year to test for signs of Parkinson’s and other neurological conditions. They checked for symptoms, including tremors, stiffness and whether participants took small shuffling steps or struggled to move their bodies quickly in general.

After on average six years, around 50 percent of people had developed at least two of these symptoms. But just 45 percent of the 936 people taking statins showed signs of Parkinson’s compared to 53 per cent of those who didn’t.

Taking anti-cholesterol meds reduced the odds of having movement problems six years later by 16 percent, the researchers found after taking into account other factors like age, sex and other health conditions. Likewise, participants who were taking high intensity statins had a seven percent lower risk of developing symptoms compared to those on weaker doses.

The brains of 1,044 people who had died during the study were also examined by the researchers. Those who had been taking statins were on average 37 percent less likely to have plaque build up in their arteries.

“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,” says Dr Oveisgharan. “At a minimum, our study suggests brain scans or vascular testing may be beneficial for older adults who show signs of parkinsonism but don’t have classic signs of Parkinson’s disease or do not respond to Parkinson’s disease medications.”

The findings are published in the online issue of the journal Neurology.

South West News Service writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.