"This stuff ought to be in the drinking water!"
I remember hearing that from doctors when they first found out how effective the early cholesterol-lowering drugs, known as statins, were. Of course, I also read a couple of articles where at least one doctor thought Prozac, an anti-depressant that belonged to a new class of drugs, ought to be given to everyone - that way everyone could be happy all the time (true, I did read that, though it was short-lived). I think most doctors and researchers have gone beyond that jubilant mentality.
The promise of statins, however, has, um, held some water. Scientists have found statins have some effects on the human body that were not the original intent, but that are good. This, of course, doesn't mean that everyone should take them, but that there are some good side effects for some people.
The fact that stains have side effects isn't, of itself, surprising. Most drugs have side effects. Most side effects are thought of as negative, however not all are. But there are many drugs on the market that are used "off label," meaning that a side effect is actually positive for certain health concerns with certain people.
This seems to be what going on in the studies that are trying to show positive effects of statins on the brain - maybe even Alzheimer's preventing side effects. In an article on reuters.com titled, "New study supports statin's anti-dementia effects," about the findings of a study that has been published in the January 2009 issue of Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, researchers report that "statin users had a significant 43 percent reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease compared with those who never used statins."
The study authors mention almost 20 other studies that have looked at statin's usefullness for people with later stage Alzheimer's, and the results have been positive. The next step for these researchers, according to the article, is to find out at what point it is most beneficial to start statin treatment for those at genetic risk for Alzheimer's, or even those who are not. Researchers want to find out which patients would most benefit from statins when it comes to preventing Alzheimer's disease.
I don't think we can - or should - all rush to our doctors and demand statin drugs. But it seems logical that we encourage our doctors to keep up on these studies, especially if we have specific risks for Alzheimer's or if we already have a loved one with the disease.
One major negative side effect of statins is that they can cause liver damage. People taking them for cholesterol control need regular blood tests. But statins are, for most people, very effective for keep cholesterol levels in a good range. If the side effect of that is lowering the risk of Alzheimer's, that sounds like a good deal.
When will they begin giving it to off-label to prevent Alzheimer's? Time will tell. There may be doctors already doing that for high-risk patients. However, if your loved one has Alzheimer's, why not mention the studies and ask the doctor about trying statins to see if they help? They are available and relatively affordable. You'd need to monitor your elder closely to see if there are any negative reactions, should one be prescribed, as you would any drug. But, for some people, they could be worth a try.