People who lower their lipid profile with cholesterol-reducing statin drugs appear to achieve mental improvement as well, according to data presented at the 52nd annual scientific sessions of the American College of Cardiology.
Why reducing cholesterol would also reduce depression, anxiety, and hostility remains a mystery, but the longer the patient stays on statins, the greater the improvement in psychological stresses, the researchers said.
“We can't really explain why this is happening,” said lead researcher Charles Blatt, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. For people who stop taking statins or can't tolerate the medicine, their depression, anxiety, and hostility—as measured by standard psychological tests—returns to pre-statin use levels.
Dr. Blatt showed that the psychological score began dropping during the first year patients were on the cholesterol-lowering drugs and progressively decreased over the course of treatment, while patients not taking the drugs had no change in their psychology.
In a press briefing, Dr. Blatt said it appeared that the improvement in psychological state is an additional effect of statins. He and his colleagues examined the health records of 606 elderly patients with heart disease—140 had continuous statin use; 219 had intermittent use, and 231 were not on the drugs.
The moderator at the briefing, Richard Pasternak, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard, called the report very interesting. “We know that statins work to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease, but sometimes statins work in ways that are unexpected,” he said.
Whether statins have psychological impact, however, is still not proven, Dr. Pasternak noted. “In this study there are a host of confounders,” he said, including the question of whether the patients feel better because the statins reduce chest pain and hospitalizations—and that makes the patients less depressed, less anxious, and less hostile, or because there is something intrinsic about what statins do.
Dr. Blatt suggested that patients' psychological profile improved only if they were taking lipophilic statins. There was no effect for patients using hydrophilic statin drugs. The lipophilic drugs may be able to have an impact on brain function because they are able to cross the blood-brain barrier, he explained.