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Researchers recently found that statins could help lower dementia risk in people with heart failure. gece33/Getty Images
  • People who have cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, are at an increased risk for dementia.
  • Statins are a type of medication used to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Researchers from the University of Hong Kong have found statins may help lower dementia risk in people with heart failure.

More than half a billion people around the world have cardiovascular disease.

Previous research shows that people who have cardiovascular disease — such as heart failure — are at an increased risk for dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Statins are a type of medication used in certain to help lower cholesterol levels and help protect against stroke and heart attack.

Additionally, statins may be used in both the prevention and treatment of heart failure.

Now researchers from the University of Hong Kong have found statins may help lower dementia risk — including Alzheimer’s disease — in people with heart failure.

The study was recently published in the journal Lancet Regional Health.

Corresponding study author Prof. Kai-Hang Yiu, clinical professor in the Cardiology Division of the School of Clinical Medicine at the University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen Hospital, and Queen Mary Hospital, Hong Kong, China, explained to Medical News Today why his research team studied the potential association between statin therapy and dementia incidence among patients with heart failure.

Prof. Yiu said previous research suggested that statins may have neuroprotective effects in addition to their cholesterol-lowering effects.

“It is noted that non-cardiovascular outcomes are increasing among heart failure patients, especially dementia,” Prof. Yiu said.

“Therefore, it was important to investigate whether statin therapy could potentially reduce the risks of dementia incidence and its subtypes, including Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and unspecified dementia in patients with heart failure.”

This is not the first study to look at statins lowering dementia risk. A study published in December 2023 found people who took statins experienced improved cognition over a period of three years.

And research published in February 2018 reported statins may provide a therapeutic role in targeting neurotoxicity caused by the protein beta-amyloid, which is considered one of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.

For the present study, Prof. Yiu and his team analyzed data from more than 104,000 people with a primary diagnosis of heart failure within the Hong Kong Clinical Data Analysis and Reporting System database. About 54,000 people used statins, and about 50,000 did not.

Scientists analyzed four types of statins people used, including:

They also examined their risk for three types of dementia — Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and unspecified dementia.

Upon analysis, researchers reported that statin use was associated with a 20% lower risk of incident dementia compared to not using a statin.

Scientists also found that statin use was associated with a 28% lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease, 18% lower risk of vascular dementia, and 20% lower risk of unspecified dementia.

“I was somewhat surprised to find such a strong association between statin use and a lower risk of incident dementia in heart failure patients,” Prof. Yiu said.

“While there has been some previous research suggesting that statins may have neuroprotective effects, the magnitude of the effect that we observed in our study was quite substantial.”

“While there have been some previous studies suggesting that statins may have neuroprotective effects, it was not entirely clear whether these effects would be specific to certain types of dementia or whether they would be more general. Our findings suggest that statin therapy may be beneficial in reducing the risk of multiple types of dementia in heart failure patients.”

— Prof. Kai-Hang Yiu, corresponding study author

Based on the current understanding of statins and their potential effects on dementia risk, Prof. Yiu said there are several mechanisms that may explain their beneficial effects.

Firstly, he explained, statins are primarily used to lower cholesterol levels, and high cholesterol has been associated with an increased risk of dementia.

“By reducing cholesterol levels, statins may help to prevent the buildup of plaques and tangles in the brain, which are characteristic features of Alzheimer’s disease,” Prof. Yiu added.

Secondly, Prof. Yiu pointed to the anti-inflammatory properties of statins.

Chronic inflammation is thought to play a role in the development of dementia,” he explained. “By reducing inflammation, statins may help to protect the brain from damage and neurodegeneration.”

“Thirdly, statins have been shown to improve endothelial function, which is a significant risk factor for vascular dementia,” Prof. Yiu continued.

“Finally, statins have been found to have antioxidant properties, which can help to reduce oxidative stress in the brain. Oxidative stress is known to contribute to the development of neurodegenerative diseases, including dementia.”

“It’s important to note that while these mechanisms provide a plausible explanation for the observed reduction in dementia risk associated with statin use, further research is needed to fully understand the exact mechanisms,” he added.

After reviewing this study, Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, a board certified interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, CA, told MNT he was surprised by the research results.

“Statins are not traditionally indicated for heart failure specifically,” Dr. Chen explained. “We use statins for patients with high cholesterol and alpha secondary prevention in patients who’ve had cardiovascular conditions, but heart failure itself isn’t one of the conditions we normally see statins with.”

“So it was very impressive to see in this study that statins were able to reduce dementia incidents across the board,” he continued. “In particular, it was pretty impressive to see that it was able to reduce dementia in all subcategories, not just vascular dementia, which you would expect to have some sort of positive benefit.”

And MNT also spoke with Dr. José Morales, a vascular neurologist and neurointerventional surgeon at Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, CA, about this study.

Dr. Morales said these are interesting findings that generally support the use of statins not only to protect yourself against vascular disease but also potentially against the progression of dementia.

“I do think that given the findings it would be worthwhile to replicate these findings in different countries (and) different races. To be able to replicate those same findings in a similarly sized population pool taking statins versus not and the incidence of dementia I think would be very helpful in helping us understand whether these are generalizable findings.”

— Dr. José Morales, vascular neurologist and neurointerventional surgeon