Previous research had proposed that people who received statins might be less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease. However, the new study, by researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, suggests that statins protect the brain against changes that signal the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
"Our study is the first to compare the brains of people who had received statins with those who had not," said Gail Li, MD, PhD and the paper's lead author.
For the study, the researchers examined the brains of 110 deceased Group Health Cooperative members, aged 65 to 79, who had participated in Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) and who donated their brains for research.
The two changes in the brain that are considered the best hallmarks of Alzheimer's are brain "plaques" and "tangles." After controlling for variables including age at death, gender, and strokes in the brain, the researchers found considerably fewer tangles in the brains of people who had taken statins than in those who had not.
"These results are exciting, novel, and have important implications for prevention strategies. But they need to be confirmed, because ACT is not a randomized controlled trial," said senior co-author Eric Larson, MD, MPH, the leader of the ACT study and executive director of Group Health Center for Health Studies.
A randomized controlled trial of statin treatment and brain autopsy findings would be problematic for ethical and practical reasons, said Dr. Larson.
"People with Alzheimer's are diverse. Statins are probably more likely to help prevent the disease in certain kinds of people than others," said Dr Li.
"Someday we may be able to know more precisely which individuals will benefit from which types of statins for preventing the changes of Alzheimer's disease," Larson concluded.
The findings of the study have been published in the Aug. 28 edition of the journal Neurology.