Surprise! Your Brain Needs Cholesterol

“This drug makes women stupid.” – Dr. Orli Etingin, vice chairman of medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital, commenting on Lipitor at a recent luncheon discussion on women and the brain.

Remember the government’s commercials showing a fried egg with the voice over stating, “This is your brain on drugs”? The ad was referring to illegal drugs, but apparently your brain can achieve the same effect if you take any of the legally prescribed drugs the FDA has approved to lower cholesterol. According to an article in today’s Wall Street Journal, your brain needs cholesterol to fully function: “The brain is largely cholesterol, much of it in the myelin sheaths that insulate nerve cells and in the synapses that transmit nerve impulses. Some doctors theorize that lowering cholesterol could slow the connections that facilitate thought and memory. Statins may also lead to the formation of abnormal proteins seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.”

The Journal article also cites that “cognitive effects (fuzzy thinking and memory loss) are the second most common problem, after muscle aches, reported by patients to the Statin Effect Study at the University of California, San Diego.”

How come Lipitor’spitchman Dr. Robert Jarvik doesn’t tell you that? Could it be that most senior citizens are not suffering from Alzheimer’s – that their statin is causing their memory loss? As big pharma keeps pushing for ever lower cholesterol numbers, younger people on the drugs will fear they’re losing their mind.

How do patients and medical professionals know statins are causing “cognitive effects”? The Journal quotes Gayatri Devi, an associate professor of neurology and psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine. Dr. Devi says “the changes started to occur within six weeks of starting the statin, and the cognitive abilities returned very quickly when they went off” (the statin). Other studies and patients quoted in the article cite the same results.

Of course big pharma and many cardiologists will give the usual “the benefits outweigh the risks” argument for taking statins. Consumers shoud consider that:

  • Most of the staunchest advocates for statins have ties to the pharmaceutical industry in some form or another. For example, the Journal article quotes the past president of the American Heart Association, and states that “Dr. Gotto has consulted for most of the statin makers and has been involved in many of the trials.”
  • A study of the drug Vytorin found that plaque actually grew faster in patients taking Vytorin (a combination of Zetia and Zocor) than Zocor alone!
  • There is a growing debate among some doctors and scientists that lower cholesterol does not decrease the risk of heart disease or heart attack, particularly in people who have no other risk factors beyond high cholesterol.
  • Several members of Congress are investigating the effectiveness of the drugs and with big pharma’s marketing of them.

Consumers need to keep these things in mind (no pun intended) when stacking up the growing list of risk factors to their personal situation.


Anonymous said...

good to hear there is finally some debate on statins and impact. We are such a drug oriented society. Of course media immediatly jumps on the right of the subject. Research shows, and there are numerous studies supporting that colesterol is synthesized in the brain and it does not use outside sources. What I can't determine is the impact of colesterol reducing drugs on the brain levels. All this aside, diet and exercise are the most benificial controls of just about every problem but this doesn't generate gross revenues to drug companies;

Kate said...

This is excellent information. I am researching the affects of statin drugs and the brain.
We all need to be proactive in our healthcare and look to alternatives, diet and excercise alone will improve many of the health issues we face today.

Thank you for the information