Elderly people who are put on statins to address issues with high cholesterol could be protected against Parkinson’s, according to a new study. Scientists at Rush University in Chicago found those on the pills were 16 per cent less likely to develop the characteristic symptoms of the disease.
If further studies back up this claim, statins could represent a cost-effective way to prevent Parkinson’s as they are cheap to manufacture. The condition is caused by damage to the nerve cells in the brain and leads to vital chemicals needed for movement not being produced.
Nearly 3,000 people aged 70 and over were involved in the study, with a third of them being on statins. None of the participants had Parkinson’s at the beginning of the research and were checked for signs of parkinsonism annually for six years.
Parkinsonism is a broad term that covers all the neurological conditions associated with the disease, such as tremors, stiffness and difficulty moving on command. Those found to have two or more markers were considered to have parkinsonism.
Around half of the participants developed parkinsonism during the research period, with 53 per cent not taking statins. Just 45 per cent of those in the statin taking group were found to have two or more of the markers. The scientists also observed those on higher doses of statins were even less likely to have symptoms.
Dr Shahram Oveisgharan, lead researcher, said: “Our results suggest people using statins may have a lower risk of parkinsonism. And that may be partly caused by the protective effect statins may have on arteries in the brain.
“Our results are exciting because movement problems in older adults that come under the umbrella of parkinsonism are common, often debilitating and generally untreatable.”
She suggested that statins could have a therapeutic use in the future to reduce parkinsonism effects on the general population. At the moment they are only given to those with high cholesterol or people at risk of having a stroke.
Millions of people in the UK and US have been prescribed statins and take them regularly. Some 137,000 Brits and 680,000 Americans have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and are living with the condition.
No definitive answer has been ascertained as to why nerve cells are damaged in the brains of Parkinson’s patients, but it prevents the normal production of dopamine. This chemical is vital for regulating the body’s movement, which is why tremors are among the most noticeable signs of Parkinson’s.
Most scientists believe Parkinson’s is caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors. These can include exposure to certain chemicals and pesticides, as well as experiencing a head injury.