Here’s another post in honor of June being Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month.
We know that the cholesterol-lowering drugs, statins, can help prevent heart attacks and strokes in people with known cardiovascular disease, such as someone who has already had a heart attack, or who smokes and has high blood pressure.
(It’s less clear if statins are helpful in healthy individuals with no risk factors for heart disease other than an elevated cholesterol level. There’s lots of debate on this topic!)
The risk factors for dementia are similar to those for heart attack and stroke: obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, age, etc. It begs the question: Do statins prevent dementia?
The short answer is probably not.
What does the research show?
There are studies, often picked up by news media, that seem to show a connection between statins and brain health. So anyone concerned about developing Alzeheimer’s disease or dementia may hear these stories and be motivated to ask their doctor about whether taking a statin to prevent dementia is a good idea.
Having a discussion about dementia and risk factors and what you can do reduce your risk is a great plan.
But don’t expect to get a prescription for a statin.
A 2016 Cochrane review (the arbiters of evidence-based medicine) on statins and dementia concluded:
There is good evidence that statins given in late life to people at risk of vascular disease do not prevent cognitive decline or dementia.
Also, a possible side effect of statins is Type-2 diabetes, which is also a risk factor for dementia. Memory loss is another side effect of statins.
So while taking a statin may be best for heart health in some people, the benefits to the brain may not outweigh the risks.
How to keep your brain healthy
The best ways to keep your brain healthy don’t involve prescription drugs! The Alzheimer’s Association recommends these 10 Ways to Love Your Brain:
- Exercise. Walk, run, swim, dance, play tennis—just get your heart pumping and break a sweat!
- Be a lifelong learner. Sign up for local or online classes and learn something new.
- Don’t smoke.
- Take care of your heart. What’s good for your heart is good for your brain, too. Except maybe statins.
- Prevent brain injuries. Wear a seatbelt and use protective head gear when riding a bike or playing contact sports.
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Not sure what to eat? Look at the DASH diet.
- Get enough sleep.
- Manage stress.
- Socialize. Spend time with friends and family, volunteer at a local charity or organize a meet up.
- Challenge your brain. Play games (the more strategic, the better) or solve puzzles. My favorite game? Mahjongg.
Here are a few of my related posts on brain health:
And these are some of my favorite books on improving memory and reducing dementia risk:
You only have one brain, so treat it well!