Statins worsen brain function of Alzheimer’s sufferers

Many years ago I was having dinner with a friend who was, herself, a young hospital doctor specialising in ‘care of the elderly’ (what used to be called ‘geriatrics’). She worked in a busy department, and lamented the fact that so many elderly people were suffering from what she believed to be the adverse effects of what she termed ‘polypharmacy’ – basically the taking of multiple medications. She told me that when a new patient was admitted to her ward, she would usually stop all medications, and then might re-add them very selectively later. She said the stopping of all medication very commonly led to a significant improvement in the clinical state of her patients (which is why she did it).

This conversation came back to me this week while I was reading a study in which elderly individuals with Alzheimer’s disease had their statin medication stopped for six weeks, and then restarted [1]. The results, in short, showed that during the six weeks when their statins were stopped, the basic brain function of the individuals improved. When the drugs were restarted, brain function got worse again.

Now, one could argue that this sort of study is not necessarily a good judge of the impact of statins on brain function. That’s because the researchers (and patients) knew when the patients were taking statins and when they were not, which means the changes might be down to the placebo response or even bias on the part of the researchers. I would say that, in many respects, this study is a pretty decent judge of how things work in the real world. If a person feels better and seems brighter once their statin is stopped, then whether this has to do with the placebo response or not, it seems reasonable to consider stopping the medication in the long term.

Some researchers have suggested that statins might actually improve brain function in the elderly. This stance is largely theoretical, and studies in which individuals have been given statins have not found that they improve brain function at all. Actually, last year the Food and Drugs Administration in the US issued a warning about the potential for statins to affect brain function, telling us that: “There have been rare post-marketing reports of cognitive impairment (e.g., memory loss, forgetfulness, amnesia, memory impairment, confusion) associated with statin use. These reported symptoms are generally not serious and reversible upon statin discontinuation, with variable times to symptom onset (1 day to years) and symptom resolution (median of 3 weeks).”

I don’t know if the effects of statins on the brain are as rare as the FDA imagines. That’s partly because a lot of side-effects go unrecognised by doctors. Adverse effects from statins can come on weeks, months and even years after a statin is started. The longer the gap between the starting of a medication and the emergence of a symptom, generally the less likely a doctor is to suspect the medication is to blame. And, even if a doctor does believe a medication is giving trouble, the chances are it will not be reported (it’ a hassle, to be honest).

I’m pleased to see studies such as this one getting published, as it helps to raise awareness about the damage statins can do. I’ve seen this many times in my patients, and not so long ago I wrote about how it seemed to have affected my own father. He ended up stopping his statins, and felt much better as a result. Neither of us knows whether his improvement was due to the placebo response or not, and neither of us cares either.


1. Padala KP. Et al. The effect of HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors on cognition in patients with Alzheimer’s dementia: a prospective withdrawal and rechallenge pilot study. Am J Geriatr Pharmacother 2012;10(5):296-302.

18 Responses to Statins worsen brain function of Alzheimer’s sufferers

  1. mike 1 February 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    Let’s say that statins were the perfect drug to prevent heart disease, but had one nasty side effect – memory impairment that increases with every dose.
    Given that we are the sum total of our experience, and our personalities are integral to that, then I wonder if we, knowing that would swap who we are for a few extra years of life sitting in a care home chair with the cognitive function of a cabbage?

  2. Suzy Kelham 2 February 2013 at 9:33 am #


    Gradually mainstream medicine is waking up to the fact that brains need cholesterol. I discovered this personally 5 years ago. My daughter thought I was developing Alzheimer’s. I stopped the Simvastatin because of the muscle pain. I cannot tell you how angry I am and how much I have lost all faith in the medical profession for swallowing this lie in the first place. My memory has still not completely recovered. I still have “senior moments”. There is no Alzheimer’s in my family so it has to be the drugs. I’m only 65. That is not old. In my opinion, statins are the new thalidomide and they are doing untold damage.

  3. tony kerstein 2 February 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    My experience and reaction was exactly the same as Suzy Kelham’s. I also still have the odd senior moment, expecially with names, but I did not put this down to the lingering after effects of statins. Can they really last that long? My doctor did not accept these as side effects and I’m sure her’s didn’t too-no wonder the side effects are vastly under reported.

  4. Moyra P. 3 February 2013 at 12:33 am #

    Well said, Mike & Suzy! For those who may be interested, there is a site for statin sufferers at:
    Keep writing the articles, Dr Briffa; your website is becoming a valuable resource! Know that you are appreciated…

  5. Ulfric M Douglas 11 February 2013 at 6:51 pm #

    I’m convinced my old Mother’s year of muscle pain (especially wrists) followed by sudden and severe Alzheimers was TRIGGERED by statins. Is there any research on this ‘trigger’ effect?

  6. Moyra P. 12 February 2013 at 10:36 am #

    Stephanie Seneff has written on this:

    Googling ‘Do Statin drugs trigger Alzheimer’s Disease?’ brings up additional commentaries.
    I greatly sympathise with you, Ulfric – my husband has also been reduced to an Alzheimer’s victim by the actions of his GP.

  7. David Harrison 9 May 2013 at 10:39 am #

    I would be interested in your response to this article in the Daily Express 8th April; Headline “PROOF STATINS SAVE YOUR LIFE, New research shows benefits of wonder drug”. The article concludes with this quote from the British Heart Foundation; “All medications have benefits and side effects, but you should be reassured that statins are among the safest of drugs. The choice is yours, but remember – the most common side effect of not taking a statin is a heart attack”.

  8. Tony Kerstein 9 May 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    The increase in mental problems, not only worsening Alzheimer’s shouldn’t be that surprising since when statin’s lower cholesterol they also block Q10. Both cholesterol and Q10 are vital for brain function.

  9. Robert Simpkins 27 June 2013 at 11:01 am #

    I have been put on statins several times and each time I have had cognitve problems in a very short amount of time. I have also developed Rhabdomyolosis from it 1 time. Strangely I also developed a extramedulary plasmacytoma at the same time ,now must be checked for multiple myeloma yearly. Also problems never showed in blood work until they started checking my CK.
    Each time I had cognitive problems doctors always suspected it was TIA , check corodid arteries and they were not clogged. Just recently because of past cardiac problems , and the unability to reach cholesterol goals with other meds such as Zetia , that don’t seem to bother me ,my doctor convinced me to take Crestor at 5 mg 1x a week, after 2nd tablet , again cognitive problems , and again My doctor has sheduled a doppler suspecting TIA.

    To me it’s simple I feel mentally good and sharp without statins , and have problems with , I will never take another one, each time I have problems I recover less. And to think they also say it could be beneficial in the treatment of multiple myeloma.

    In my opinion, not only are statins one of the best selling group of drugs ever , it also sells many other drugs by the problems they cause, follow the money trail , just look at all the uses they claim it can be used for.

  10. Tony Kerstein 27 June 2013 at 7:33 pm #

    When I was on statins I thought I was getting Alzhiemer’s. When I needed to remember something, even something simple like turning off the gas, I started writing i down as I couldn’t trust myself to remember it. I was also suffering from muscle pains. I then got a book called The Great Cholesterol Con by Malcolm Kendrick and started reading Dr Briffa’s articles in a journal called the Epoch Times and put two and two together and stopped taking the statins.

    Later I got a haemorraghic stroke (not a TIA) which seemed to heal almost at once, much to the doctors’ and hospitals’ bemusement.

    I believe that abandoning statins may have saved my life (they are an anti-coagulant) since I was already on low dose aspirins, both contra indicated for that type of stroke. It certainly saved my sanity.

  11. Thaddeus Buttmunch MD 16 November 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    I am an Internist. I just took my Father (who has memory problems is becoming bedbound and poor appetite) off lipitor. I hope I can still help him. I quit my practice over his health. I must be out of state for a few weeks to close out my affairs. I hope he is alive when I return!!

  12. Jenny Taylor 4 December 2013 at 1:02 am #

    My mother is in a locked ward of a nursing home diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. I do not know how long she was on Statins, I suspect over a decade. I was able to convince her doctor to trial taking her off them in April. By that time she had been placed in the locked ward and separated for life from my father, whom she has known since she was 4. Since they have only ever been separated by WW2 in the past, this has caused them both considerable distress.

    At the same time, my father began secretly giving her a CoQ10 supplement (would not be able to convince the nursing home to do this, long story). Her cognitive state is so good now that it is a travesty to see her in this locked ward with virtual zombies. My dad and I do all we can to entertain her, but it is a poor substitute for the friends she left behind on the unlocked floor.

    She probably would still be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, since she is horribly forgetful, but the delusions have completely stopped, as have the “behaviours”, including hitting staff, that caused her to be locked up. We have no way of telling if she would continue the wandering behaviour, but if you ask her, she remembers that the reason she is locked up is because she wandered on a couple of occasions away from the facility.

    It is heartbreaking to hear her promise “I have learned my lesson, I won’t do it again”. I believe much of the behaviour she now exhibits is a kind of post traumatic stress disorder, or more accurately, a present traumatic stress disorder. She is quiet and withdrawn, and often depressed. She no longer fights being locked up, something she complained vigorously about for some time.

    This treatment of our elderly is Dickensian, and causes me daily distress. My young nephew, who has witnessed very little of all this, is frightened to get old, as are any who have had anything to do with our aged care system.

    Thank you for publicising this. There is currently a mighty debate in Australia about Statins, triggered by a TV documentary show.

    Jenny Taylor

  13. Tony Kerstein 8 December 2013 at 10:22 pm #

    What is needed is a well publicised class action suite led by people like Jenny Taylor and a lawyer who is a child of an affected relative taking the case on ‘pro-bono’.At the very least it will provide an alternative view against those who want to feed these wretched statins to everyone-some have even hinted that they could be put into our water.

  14. Moy Peralta 9 December 2013 at 12:37 pm #

    Well, it certainly needs more than talk right now. The internet is awash with sobering and heart-rending reports of those whose lives have been unnecessarily destroyed by the orchestrated prescribing of Statins.

    I would like to bring readers’ attention (and Dr. Briffa’s) to Dr David Healy’s RxISK website which is fighting to force a higher level of transparency from the Pharmaceutical companies. I have much hope that the RxISK site might eventually prove an effective tool in the re-education of GPs who are currently themselves awash with misinformation about the efficacy and/or ‘safety’ of the drugs they are prescribing.

  15. Kim 1 February 2014 at 2:46 am #

    Like many here, I have familial experience with Statins. My 84 yo father is in a nursing home now, mostly due to statin side effects. He’s T2 diabetic for over 20 years and on Lipitor for probably 15 of that. He’s unable to walk and suffers from some form of dementia. 5 years ago he suffered from congestive heart failure and required open heart surgery to replace aortic valve and do triple bypass. Obviously, 15 years of statins did nothing to precent plaque build-up in his arteries. And the heart failure was likely statin induced as well from Co-q10 depletion. In all, my dad’s life was ruined by these dangerous, ineffective drugs. Time for a class action, IMO.

  16. Tony Kerstein 1 February 2014 at 7:42 pm #

    Malcolm Kendrick (The Great Cholesterol Con) wrote that in the late 1980s Merck took out two patents out on a pill that combined a statin with Q10 but did not actually go on to produce this combination pill, presumably because of the extra expense and the doubts this might raise about the safety of statins on their own. They also did not publish the research involved (surprise -surprise) but must have been worried by something they had seen to file two separate patents.

  17. john f 30 March 2014 at 5:05 pm #

    The article and the comments talk about the negative effect of statins on the brain. But it still is true that they prevent heart attacks. Period. “my own father. He ended up stopping his statins, and felt much better as a result. Neither of us knows whether his improvement was due to the placebo response or not, and neither of us cares either.” You don’t care? Will you care if he has a fatal heart attack because he stopped taking his statins?

    I guess I’ll put up with the “senior moments” that others are saying they have, if I am ALIVE because my HEART does not stop beating.


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