Statins, the widely used cholesterol-lowering drugs, have been blamed for memory loss, but a new study suggests that the association is an illusion.
The report, in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that the apparent association was likely a result of detection bias — visiting the doctor and starting a new medicine makes people more acutely aware of health issues they might otherwise not notice.
Researchers compared 482,543 statin users with the same number of people using no lipid-lowering drugs and with 26,484 people using non-statin lipid lowering drugs.
Use of statin drugs was associated with an increase in memory loss during the first 30 days of starting the drugs compared with people who did not take cholesterol-lowering drugs. But so was use of non-statin lipid-lowering drugs.
After accounting for many health and behavioral variables, the scientists concluded that either all lipid lowering drugs, statins or not, cause memory loss or, more likely, that previous findings were based on the expectations of the patients rather than any physiological effect of the medicine.
“As you think about whether you should be taking statins, there are questions about uncommon side effects worth raising,” said the lead author, Dr. Brian L. Strom, chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences. “But the question of impairing memory is a nonissue.”