‘Statins are one of the most widely prescribed medications in Australia used to treat excess cholesterol and work by inhibiting cholesterol production. Little is known about how they affect brain sterol production, which is vital for memory function and cell signalling.
Ms Stephenson says previous research into the cognitive effects of statins has been inconclusive and her study is important as there is still no clear consensus on if and how statins may impact a person’s memory.
‘Concerns have been raised that cholesterol-lowering substances (such as statins) have the potential to adversely affect the delicate sterol balance in the brain, and the US FDA last year added a warning that they can cause a reversible cognitive impairment in addition to memory loss.
Ms Stephenson said her project will investigate the cognitive abilities of long-term statin users versus non-statin users testing an individual’s memory, attention, reaction time and problem-solving abilities.
‘Medical professionals need to be aware of any possible cognitive impairments from taking this medication and help patients make an informed choice as to whether it is right for them.’
Although it appears the risk will vary individually, Ms Stephenson says that there is evidence that the effects are reversible once normal sterol synthesis resumes in the brain.
‘However, this can still be very traumatic for the individual and needs to be studied further.’
The two year study began last November and is set to conclude in late 2013.