Scratch That! Statins Might Not Protect Against Parkinson's Disease, Might Increase Long-Term Risks

Dawn Papple

Just as people were becoming more familiar with the idea that the cholesterol-lowering medications statins could offer protection against Parkinson's disease, a new study claims that benefit probably doesn't exist. About one million people in the United States have Parkinson's disease, a neurodegenerative brain disease.

Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences say that while they tried to reproduce the association between Parkinson's prevention and statins, they were unsuccessful. Though other studies, including some epidemiology studies, pointed to the possibility that statins might lower the incidence of Parkinson's disease, evidence has been inconsistent and "studies did not account for cholesterol levels prior to the widespread use of statins" within Americans, according to Medical News Today.

"Although some have proposed that statins might be a 'cure-all' drug," Xuemei Huang, professor of neurology and vice chair for medical research at Penn State, explained, "this might be a case where what's good for the heart isn't good for the brain."

Statins have gained notoriety within the baby boomer generation, especially after researchers announced in January's edition of JAMA that they believe 97 percent of people over 66-years-old should begin taking statins to reduce their chances of heart disease. They claimed Parkinson's protective factor compounded the benefits of statins.

According to an article from AARP, almost one-fifth of statin users report a side effect to their physicians. Dr. John Abramson at Harvard said that "there is evidence that older people have more side effects." Those side effects include muscle aches, sexual dysfunction, cognitive impairment, liver problems, and an increased risk of diabetes.

The researchers of the new study, published in the medical journal Movement Disorders, weren't just incapable of reproducing previous findings that statins could be protective against Parkinson's disease -- they actually found an increased long-term risk of Parkinson's disease among statin users. Huang believes that coenzyme Q10 has protective qualities for nerve cells, and since statins reduce this compound, that could be part of the reason for the apparent increased long-term risk of Parkinson's disease among statin users.

"Statins have been very important for preventing and treating vascular disease, but we need more research to understand if in some cases there is collateral damage."

Huang says that previous studies might have shown protection against Parkinson's because statin use is a marker of people with high cholesterol. According to a press release by the researchers, that in itself might also be associated with lower Parkinson's risks rather than the regular use of statins.