Experts sought to reassure patients today after scientists announced they were planning an in-depth study on the link between statins and Parkinson’s disease.
The cholesterol-lowering drugs are taken by an estimated three million Britons and are renowned for preventing heart attacks and strokes.
But now scientists are planning a detailed study after research showed a link to Parkinson’s, which affects around 120,000 people in the UK.
Charities urged people to continue taking their statins, saying the drugs saved lives.
According to a report in the magazine Chemistry & Industry, researchers in the United States are planning a large-scale clinical trial on the link.
It comes after experts, led by Xuemei Huang from the University of North Carolina, said they had found the strongest link yet between Low-density Lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels and Parkinson’s.
High levels of LDL cholesterol are linked to heart disease. Statins are known to reduce these LDL levels.
The study of 124 patients revealed that those with low levels of LDL cholesterol were around three times as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease to those with higher levels.
Study leader Dr Xuemei Huang told the magazine she was worried by the results. She said: ‘I am very concerned, which is why I am planning a 16,000-patient prospective study to examine the possible role of statins.’
She said there could be big surges in the number of Parkinson’s cases in the next five years if a link is confirmed. By then, statins would have been in common use for more than a decade.
British experts sought to calm fears, saying there was little or no evidence of a link.
Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘We are concerned that any suggestion of a link between statins and Parkinson’s disease would unnecessarily scare the millions of people benefiting from statins in the UK.
‘There is no evidence to suggest that statins cause Parkinson’s disease. There is, however, overwhelming evidence that statins save lives by preventing heart attacks and strokes.
‘Nobody should stop taking statins on the basis of this report. If they do, they will be putting themselves at increased risk of heart attack or stroke.’
Dr Patricia Limousin, Consultant Neurologist at University College London, said: ‘There is absolutely no evidence that statin drugs cause Parkinson’s disease.
‘In fact these drugs were related to a lower occurrence of Parkinson’s disease in Huang’s study, raising the possibility of a protective effect that warrants further investigations.’
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