News in Context: Cholesterol Medication and Parkinson’s
Monday, 4th April 2022

Do cholesterol-lowering medicines, called statins, decrease risk of Parkinson’s? Statins lower cholesterol with the goal of decreasing risk of heart disease and stroke. But they also lower inflammation and reduce cell damage, which some believe could help prevent or treat Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Research on statins and Parkinson’s has, unfortunately, conflicted. Some studies say statins may lower risk or slow progression of Parkinson’s. Others suggest the opposite: an increased risk or lack of effect on progression.

Work recently published in Neurology falls in the first category. It suggests that people who take statins may have less risk of parkinsonism. Parkinsonism is a term for the movement symptoms of Parkinson’s: tremor, slowness and stiffness. Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the main cause of parkinsonism. But there are others, such as long-term use of certain mood medications or multiple small strokes.

For the study, scientists at Rush University in Chicago followed about 2,800 volunteers who did not have parkinsonism for an average of six years. Thirty-three percent of volunteers were taking a statin at study start. Compared to people not on statins, those taking a statin were 16 percent less likely to have a diagnosis of parkinsonism at the end of the study.

These results add support for the potential benefits of statins and Parkinson’s. But don’t ask your doctor for a prescription just yet. Statins, like all medications, have potential side effects. And, as with much science, more work in this area is necessary. Some of that work includes understanding why research conflicts, such as differing cholesterol levels, doses of medication or other conditions among study participants that might influence results. A better understanding can help inform ongoing and future trials on statins and Parkinson’s.

In the meantime, if you need a cholesterol medication, it may be worth discussing whether a statin might be beneficial, particularly if you live with Parkinson’s or with a risk for the disease, such as having a family member with PD, carrying a genetic link, or acting out your dreams.

Source: The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research