Older adults who take statin drugs for cholesterol may have a reduced risk of developing parkinsonism, a neurological condition that causes movement issues such as tremor, according to a recent study by researchers at Rush University Medical Center.
The research is published in the March 23 online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
“Statins reduce plaques in the arteries that is formed by too much cholesterol found in the blood. This study shows that those who are using these drugs may have a lower risk of parkinsonism and it may be caused by a protective effect that statins may have on arteries in the brain,” said Dr. Shahram Oveisgharan, study author and assistant professor in the Department of Neurological Sciences at Rush University Medical Center.
“Movement problems in older adults are common and often debilitating and generally untreatable. If statins can decrease the risk of people developing parkinsonism movement disorders, that could be good news for the 60,000 people who develop them.”
A total of 2,841 participants at an average age of 76 were included in the study. The participants did not have parkinsonism at the start of the study and about 33%, or 936 participants, were taking statins. Participants were evaluated annually for an average of six years to test for signs of parkinsonism and their current statin usage. Those who had two or more of the following symptoms were considered to have the disorder: tremor, stiffness, parkinsonian gait (small shuffling steps and a general slowness of movement), or bradykinesia (difficulty moving the body quickly on command).
At the conclusion of the study, nearly 50% of study participants, a total of 1,432, developed signs of parkinsonism. Of the 936 people taking statins, 418 people, or 45%, developed parkinsonism six years later, compared to 1,014 out of 1,905 people, or 53%, of those who had not been taking statins.
Approximately 79% of those who were taking statins were taking moderate or high-intensity statins. This group had a 7% lower risk than those who were taking low-intensity statins. After controlling for age, sex and vascular risks, like smoking and diabetes that could affect risk of parkinsonism, researchers found that those who had been taking statins, on average, had a 16% lower risk of developing parkinsonism six years later compared to those who had not been taking statins.
Researchers also examined the brains of 1,044 people who died during the study. They found those who had been using statins had a 37% lower chance, on average, of having atherosclerosis compared to those who had not been using statins.
“More research is needed, but statins could be a therapeutic option in the future to help reduce the effects of parkinsonism in the general population of older adults, not just people with high cholesterol or who are at risk for stroke,” Oveisgharan said.
“At a minimum, our study suggests brain scans or vascular testing may be beneficial for older adults who show signs of parkinsonism but don’t have classic signs of Parkinson’s disease or do not respond to Parkinson’s disease medications.” A limitation of the study is that parkinsonism evaluations were not performed by movement disorder specialists, so cases of Parkinson’s disease may have been misclassified.
The original story was shared by Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.