Experts say they have have found further evidence that cholesterol-lowering drugs can help protect against Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers in the US said they have uncovered the first direct evidence that statins – used by around three million people in Britain – could ward off the illness.
A 2002 large-scale study from Boston University found the drugs may cut the risk of Alzheimer’s by as much as 79 per cent, even in people believed to be genetically predisposed to the disease.
The lead author of the latest study, Dr Gail Li, said hers was the first to compare the brains of people who had received statins with those who had not.
The assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle and her colleagues examined the brains of 110 people.
They were aged 65 to 79 and had donated their brains for research after their death.
The two changes in the brain considered the most definitive hallmarks of Alzheimer’s are called brain ‘plaques’ and ‘tangles’.
These are protein deposits that appear to spread in the brain, although the exact cause of Alzheimer’s is not yet fully understood.
The researchers found significantly fewer tangles in the brains of people who had taken statins when compared with those who had not.
The findings were true even after controlling for variables like age at death, gender and history of strokes.
Senior co-author Eric Larson said: ‘These results are exciting, novel, and have important implications for prevention strategies.’
He said further studies were needed to confirm the findings but praised the research’s reliance on automated pharmacy records and autopsies of people both with and without dementia.
Dr Li said: ‘People with Alzheimer’s are diverse.
‘Statins are probably more likely to help prevent the disease in certain kinds of people than others.
‘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.’
There are currently 700,000 people with dementia in the UK, of which around two thirds have Alzheimer’s.
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