Many robust studies show that cholesterol-lowering medicines called statins decrease the risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Indeed, the widespread use of statins in people with or at risk for heart disease is at least partially responsible for the decreasing mortality from heart disease over the past few decades.
But almost nothing good in life or medicine comes without a cost. With statins, the most common problem is muscle aches. Some studies have estimated that as many as 20% of people on statins experience this symptom, which usually goes away when the medicine is stopped. This issue can also be effectively addressed by lowering the dose or changing to a different statin.
A more recent concern about statins is the announcement last year by the FDA that a small number of people on statins report experiencing memory loss, forgetfulness and confusion. The FDA reported that “in general, the symptoms were not serious and were reversible within a few weeks after the patient stopped using the statin.” Today the Annals of Internal Medicine published a systematic review of available evidence on the relationship between statins and cognitive impairment.
Researchers searched PubMed, Embase, and the Cochrane Library through October 2012 for randomized, controlled trials (RCTs) and cohort, case-control and cross-sectional studies that assessed cognition in patients taking statins. They also searched FDA databases from January 1986 through March 2012 to identify reports of adverse events related to statins.
Based on this extensive analysis, the study authors concluded that the currently available evidence does not support the theory that statins have negative cognitive effects. They did note, however, that no randomized controlled trials have yet been conducted to investigate this issue. Thus, they concluded that “larger and better-designed studies are needed to draw unequivocal conclusions about the effect of statins on cognition.”