Use of cholesterol-lowering drugs may cause slight mental impairment

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The use of statins, or other cholesterol-lowering medications may have a slight effect on brain function, according to results of a new study published in the Dec. 1 issue of American Journal of Medicine.

While the effects of the statin drug called simvastatin (brand name: Zocor) on cognitive function were "too small" to imply that urgent changes must be made in how they are used, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh said the results of the study do suggest the possibility that the drug may harm the brain.

Lead researcher Dr. Matthew F. Muldoon and his colleagues examined 283 adults with high cholesterol who were treated with a placebo, 10mg simvastatin or 40 mg simvastatin. The patients were given cognitive function tests before the six-month treatment trial started and after it ended.

Researchers found that the group treated with simvastatin underwent minor negative changes in performance on several tests assessing attention, memory, and overall mental efficiency. Results of this trial were similar to a previous study in which Muldoon and colleagues examined the adverse effects another statin drug, lovastatin (Mevacor), had on cognitive function.

Although it is not clear why statins may harm brain function, the study authors explain that statins have potent effects on fat metabolism, which play important roles in the chemistry of the body.