Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system (CNS). Currently, there is no cure for MS. However, research suggests that statins may be a promising potential treatment option for the disease.

MS is a condition that affects the CNS and can result in a range of symptoms throughout the body. Some research suggests that 250,000–350,000 people in the United States are living with MS, while other sources estimate the number is closer to 1 million.

Statins refer to a group of drugs that help lower blood cholesterol levels. While research on statins and MS is still in the early stages, evidence indicates promise in using this class of drugs to treat the condition.

In this article, we will discuss MS and statins, how statins may help with MS, and the latest research into statins for MS.

An image of statins, which may be a useful medication for treating MS.Share on Pinterest
Photo editing by Stephen Kelly; Iryna Imago/Getty Images

Statins refer to a group of drugs that a doctor typically prescribes to lower blood cholesterol levels. They are able to lower the amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad”, cholesterol in the body by blocking the action of a liver enzyme that helps produce cholesterol. Statins can also raise levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol.

Cholesterol plays an important role in normal cell and body function, as it helps with digesting foods, producing hormones, and generating vitamin D. However, very high levels can lead to health complications.

At present, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved statins for MS treatment. However, ongoing research suggests they may slow disease progression.

MS is a chronic condition affecting the CNS. While researchers are still unsure, evidence suggests that it is an autoimmune disorder. This means the immune system that would normally protect against pathogens mistakenly attacks healthy tissue.

In the case of MS, the immune system attacks the myelin sheath, which is a substance that surrounds and protects nerve fibers. This results in scarring, or sclerosis, which prevents the flow of electrical impulses from the brain to the target nerve. This means the body can no longer carry out certain functions.

MS may progress in several different ways. The most common is relapse-remitting MS (RRMS). RRMS involves periods of remission followed by periods called relapses. People may continue to experience symptoms during a remission period. However, the disease does not seem to progress during this time.

Other types of MS include primary progressive MS (PPMS), which involves a decline of CNS function right at the onset of symptoms. Secondary progressive MS (SPMS) involves relapses with worsening neurological symptoms over time. Some people with RRMS may eventually transition into SPMS.

Research into statins for MS suggests that these drugs may help slow the progression of brain atrophy in people with progressive forms of MS, particularly SPMS. However, research indicates they may be less effective for treating other types of MS.

Research suggests that statins may possess neuroprotective properties and that cholesterol plays a vital role in the functioning of the CNS. This is due to statins’ potential immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects. In particular, they may protect microglial cells, which are important for maintaining the health of the CNS.

At present, evidence indicates no benefit to pairing statins with beta-interferon treatment for people with RRMS. However, one particular statin called simvastatin may help reduce the rate at which the brain atrophies in people with SPMS.

While evidence suggests this may be due to the effect of statins on vascular function and cell protection, researchers are still unsure how simvastatin may help treat SPMS. A 2018 article indicates that the reduction of brain atrophy and slowing deterioration of disability is not due to the drug’s ability to lower cholesterol levels.

More research is necessary to better understand statins’ potential for MS treatment, including for SPMS.

Statins are available in oral forms, typically as pills or capsules. When taking statins, people should follow their doctor’s instructions and the instructions and information on the drug label.

Many people who take statins only need to do so once a day. Some statins may work better in the evening, while others work just as well in the morning. The best time to take them will depend on the specific drug. With some statins, people may also need to take them with food, while others can be taken at any time.

It is not advisable to stop taking statins without first consulting a doctor.

Statins have few side effects. However, some potential adverse reactions may include:

  • headache
  • trouble sleeping
  • skin flushing
  • muscle aches
  • weakness
  • fatigue or drowsiness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • cramping in the abdomen
  • bloating
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • rash

In some cases, statin use may lead to severe damage to the muscles and kidneys. People who are pregnant or have liver disease should not take statins. Statins may also interact with certain medications.

Currently, there are two ongoing clinical trials investing the potential treatment benefits of simvastatin for people with SPMS. Both are led by University College London, with one trial at phase 3 and the other at phase 2. Both trials are investigating if simvastatin can slow disease progression in people living with SPMS.

There is also a current phase 1 trial investigating whether simvastatin can help decrease attacks and progression of disease in people with RRMS.

While there is still no cure for MS, various treatments are available to help slow disease progression.

Disease-modifying therapies (DMTs) affect how the immune system works. They also help slow the progression of MS. DMTs can include:

  • teriflunomide (Aubagio)
  • fingolimod (Gilenya)
  • dimethyl fumarate (Tecfidera)
  • mavenclad (cladribine)
  • mayzent (siponimod)
  • interferon beta 1-a (Avonex and Rebif)
  • interferon beta-1b (Betaseron and Extavia)
  • glatiramer acetate: (Copaxone and Glatopa)
  • peginterferon beta-1a) (Plegridy)
  • alemtuzumab (Lemtrada)
  • mitoxantrone (Novantrone)
  • ocrelizumab (Ocrevus)
  • natalizumab (Tysabri)

Some medications, like corticosteroids, can help relieve acute symptoms by suppressing the immune system and reducing inflammation in the body.

Some people may also find alternative and complementary therapies, such as acupuncture or health supplements, helpful for managing their MS symptoms. However, it is crucial for people to talk to their doctor before trying alternative treatments.

Click here to learn more about natural treatments for MS.

MS is a chronic condition affecting the CNS. There is currently no cure, but treatments are available to help reduce MS symptoms. In recent years, scientists have made rapid progress in developing safer and more effective drugs that help slow disease progression.

Statins are one such drug that researchers are currently investigating. Research is still in early stages, but current research is showing promise that statins may be an effective treatment option for MS, particularly SPMS.