Could Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Also Prevent Depression?

Approximately 36 million Americans are eligible to take statins for the prevention of coronary heart disease, making them the most commonly prescribed medications in the country. Many of these drug names are familiar, such as Crestor, Lipitor, Vytorin, and Zocor, even to people who don't take them.

Statins block an enzyme in the liver, which produces 75 percent of the cholesterol in our body. Elevated cholesterol levels are one of the many risk factors for heart disease, along with family history, sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

One of cholesterol's roles in the body is to help the brain form memories and it is vital to neurological function. There are conflicting opinions as to whether statins affect mood and depression in people who take them.

Do They?

Using data from a large, long-term study, researchers concluded that statins might decrease the risk of developing depressive symptoms in people with cardiovascular disease. At the start of the study, statin users had lower mean depression scores than non-users. Over six years of follow up, statin use remained associated with a decreased risk of developing depression. Although researchers are still not sure how this works, these findings are similar to other studies. However, to date, randomized trials (the gold standard for research) have failed to demonstrate statins positively affect psychological well being.

Or Don't They?

Some research that shows that older adults (those most likely to be taking statins) are at the highest risk of adverse events from these medications. In one small study, for example, researchers found that simvastin (Vytorin and Zocor) lead to adverse effects on affect (feelings and emotions) and affective process in the elderly.

Physician Joseph Mercola, MD, is not a fan of statins. He says there's evidence that too little cholesterol increases the risk of cancer, memory loss, Parkinson's disease, hormonal imbalances, stroke, depression, suicide, and violent behavior. Another holistic physician, Ray Sahelian, MD, says side effects from statin use may include slight damage to brain cells, leading to mild impairment of mental function.

What to Do

Once you begin taking statins, it's generally for life unless you make significant changes to your diet or permanently shed excess weight. Dr. Mercola recommends eating a healthy diet low in fat, cholesterol, and salt, which optimizes insulin levels and helps maintain the right ratio of good and bad cholesterol. If you smoke, quit. Exercise at least 30 minutes most days and try to manage your stress.


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Morales, Knashawn ScD, Wittink, Marsha, MD, Datto, Catherine, MD, DiFilippo, Suzanne, RN, Cary, Mark, PhD, TenHave, Thomas, PhD, and Katz, Ira R., MD, PhD. "Simvastatin Causes Changes in Affective Processes in Elderly Volunteers." Journal American Geriatric Society 54(1) (2006): 70-76. Medscape Medical News. Web. 20 January 2006.

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July 20 2010.

Agostini, Joseph V., MD, Tinetti, Mary E., MD, Han, Ling, MD, MS, McAvay, Gail, PhD, MS, Foody, JoAnne M., MD, and Concato, John, MD, MS." Effects of Statin Use on Muscle Strength, Cognition, and Depressive Symptoms in Older Adults." Journal American Geriatric Society 55(3) (2007): 420-425. Medscape Medical News. Web. 30 April 2007.

Mayo Clinic. "Statins: Are these cholesterol-lowering drugs right for you?" Web.13 March 2012.

Sahelian, Ray, MD. "Statin Drugs for Cholesterol, Side Effects, Benefits, Risks and Danger, Natural Alternatives." Web.