Cholesterol-lowering statins may also lower Parkinson’s risk

statinsNew research suggests that cholesterol-lowering statins may play a pivotal role in the development of new treatment for the progressive neurological disorder Parkinson’s disease.

Parkinson’s is complex condition and different people may experience a wide variety of different symptoms. Common symptoms however include: tremors (shaking), rigidity (stiffness) and a slowness of physical movements (known as bradykinesia).

Statins such as atorvastatin (Lipitor) and rosuvastatin (Crestor) are currently taken by around 7 million people in Britain, and work by decreasing rates of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (‘bad cholesterol’) by reducing the production of LDL cholesterol inside the liver. It is dangerous to have high rates of LDL cholesterol as this causes the arteries to become narrower and harder (atherosclerosis), causing a higher risk of heart attack, stroke and coronary heart disease.

The history of statins can be traced back 42 years to 1971 when a Japanese biochemist named Akira Endo, working at pharmaceutical company Sankyo, pioneered the search for a drug that would help to lower-cholesterol.

Since 1971, statins have soared in popularity and scientists have unearthed other potential uses for the class of drugs, aside from their cholesterol benefits – which last year were shown to have reduced heart attack deaths by half.

For instance, studies have linked statins to helping treat erectile dysfunction, liver cancer, and have even been explored as beneficial for asthma patients.

The new study into statins comes from Taiwanese research published online yesterday in the journal Neurology.

After analysis of almost 44,000 patients, scientists at the National Taiwan University Hospital discovered that taking those patients who stopped taking fat-soluble statins such as simvastatin (Zocor) or atorvastatin (Lipitor) were approximately 58% more at risk of developing Parkinson’s in comparison to patients who carried on taking the statins.

Unlike water-soluble statins, it is generally believed that fat-soluble statins pass through the blood-brain barrier, helping to reduce inflammation and could even alter dopamine pathways in the brain that are associated with Parkinson’s.

The Taiwanese national health insurance program has forbidden doctors to prescribe statins to a patient once their target cholesterol level has been reached.

This policy will be scrapped Aug. 1, but has made it possible for this study to compare the potential difference in Parkinson’s risk in patients who stopped taking statins against those still taking them.

“This policy allowed us to see whether there was any difference in the risk of Parkinson’s in people who stopped taking statins compared to the ones who kept taking them, ” said study author Dr Jou-Wei Lin, a cardiologist at National Taiwan University Hospital.  “We are more glad than surprised to demonstrate the relationship. Our analysis is observational…and further clinical trials targeting the association between statin use and Parkinson’s disease are still needed.”

Dr Kieran Breen, from the charity Parkinson’s UK, however warned people who suffer with Parkinson’s should never treat themselves with statin medication unless they have been advised to do so by their own GP.

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