Statins DON’T harm your memory, study suggests

Statins DON’T harm your memory and may protect against cognitive decline as experts hope finding will reassure patients to take the life-saving pills

  • Widespread concerns that the pills caused memory issues, particularly in elderly
  • But latest study found no difference in rate of cognitive decline in people over 70
  • Drugs may even protect against memory decline in those at-risk of dementia

Statins do not speed up memory loss and may protect against cognitive decline, a study suggests.

For years experts have fiercely debated whether the pills – proven to save lives – can cause memory troubles. 

Australian researchers hope to have now put a nail in the coffin, after finding no such link in a review of evidence.

Results suggested the cholesterol-busting pills may protect against forgetfulness in pensioners at risk of dementia.

Scientists behind the study hope the findings will ‘reassure’ patients who could have been hesitant to use them over the fears.

There is no link between controversial statin pills and memory loss, a study suggests (file image) 

Around six million patients in the UK take statins. It is estimated that up to 30million people are on the drugs in the US. 

Experts agree for people who have heart disease, especially those who have suffered a heart attack in the past, the pills save lives.  

But they are also known to trigger a slew of nasty side effects including headaches, muscle pain and nausea.  

Researchers from The Garvan Institute in Sydney studied 1,037 people between the age of 70 and 90 for six years.  

There were 395 people who had never taken statins and 642 people using them, for an average of nine years.

Volunteers were examined every two years over the study period by psychologists and nurses.

Experts assessed changes to five areas of cognition and memory using 13 different tests and MRI scans of the brain. 

Researchers found no difference in the rate of decline in memory or cognitive ability between the two groups.

In people with risk factors for dementia, such as heart disease or diabetes, the drugs slowed down cognitive decline.

This slowdown was not present in people who had the same risk factors but did not take statins. 


Statins are the most commonly prescribed drug in the world and an estimated 30 per cent of all adults over the age of 40 are eligible to take them.

The cholesterol-lowering drugs are given to people believed to have a 10 per cent or higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease or having a heart attack or stroke within the next 10 years. 

They are proven to help people who have suffered heart problems in the past, but experts say the thresholds may be too high, meaning benefits are outweighed by side effects for many people.  

Nearly all men exceed the 10 per cent threshold by age 65, and all women do so by age 70 – regardless of their health.

Commonly reported side effects include headache, muscle pain and nausea, and statins can also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hepatitis, pancreatitis and vision problems or memory loss.

Research published in the Pharmaceutical Journal last year found taking a daily statin for five years after a heart attack extends your life by just four days, new research reveals.

And Dr Rita Redberg, professor at the University of California, San Francisco told CNN in January that of 100 people taking statins for five years without having had a heart attack or stroke, ‘the best estimates are that one or two people will avoid a heart attack, and none will live longer, by taking statins.’ 

Professor Katherine Samaras, one of the researchers, said: ‘We carried out the most comprehensive analysis of cognition in elderly statin users to date.

‘[We] found no results to support that cholesterol-lowering statins cause memory impairment.

‘Many factors can contribute to the cognitive symptoms that isolated case reports describe.

‘What we’ve come away with from this study is a reassurance for consumers to feel more confident about their statin prescription.’

She added: ‘Our findings demonstrate how crucial a healthy metabolism is to brain function, and how therapies can modulate this to promote healthy ageing.’ 

Statins work by reducing levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, which flows through the arteries in blood and sticks to the walls.

This clogs them up and raises the risk of someone suffering a heart attack or stroke. 

Impaired blood flow from the heart to the brain is a trigger for impaired cognitive abilities including problems with memory, reasoning, planning and judgment.  

The findings, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, have been welcomed by experts.

Dr Costantino Iadecola, director of the Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City, said: ‘These data support the view that worries about cognitive impairment should not limit statin use.’

And he added they ‘raise the possibility that statins may favourably alter cognitive trajectories in a group of elders at high risk of Alzheimer’s disease’. 

Statins are controversial. Experts in the heart field are divided on whether ‘over-prescribing’ is doing ‘more harm than good’. 

They are the most commonly prescribed drug in the world and an estimated 30 per cent of all adults over the age of 40 are eligible to take them.  

But some cardiologists say the thresholds for prescribing them may be too high, meaning benefits are outweighed by side effects for many people.