Apr 4, 2012

Do Cholesterol Drugs Benefit Alzheimer's Patients or Delay the On Set of Alzheimer's?

"This study shows that simvastatin can protect against some of the damaging effects of Alzheimer's disease on nerve cells involved in memory, if administered early in the disease process."

By Bob DeMarco
Alzheimer's Reading Room

Do Cholesterol Drugs Benefit Alzheimer's Patients or Delay the On Set of Alzheimer's?
I started reading about statins, cholesterol drugs, and Alzheimer's back in 2004. This gave me the idea to go back and look at Dotty's prescription medication records. I learned that Dotty had not been very good at taking her medications for cholesterol and hypertension during the two years before I arrived on the scene to take care of her.

I wonder how many people check to see if their elderly parents are taking their medications properly. All you need is the prints out from their healthcare provider to examine their purchase record. In Dotty' case I noticed she was not purchasing here medications on a timely basis. In other words, she was not buying enough pills to indicate she was taking her medications as prescribed. She forgot to take them and she wouldn't use the pill boxes I bought for her.

At the time I wondered, why don't the healthcare providers have a simple software program available to send an email alert when new drugs are purchased. This help would children of parents keep track in an easy, not threatening way.

I wonder if strokes and other calamities could be avoided if the taking of prescribed medication was monitored more closely. I would have to think, yes.

The healthcare company with a simple computer program could have sent Dotty (and me) a simple email indicating that the medications were not being purchased on a timely basis. This would be very simple in today's world. Do the healthcare companies care? Doesn't it stand to reason that healthcare companies could save money if patients were more meticulous in the taking of their prescribed medications?

They could have sent Dotty an email that read something like this.

Yo Dotty, we noticed you are not purchasing your medications on a timely basis. This probably indicates that you are not taking your medications on schedule each day. Your son Bobby is worried. So get on the stick "baby girl" and start taking those medications as prescribed each day.

They could add in.  Dotty, if you take your medications as prescribed for the next 360 days you will be automatically entered into a contest to win $1,000,000. Yes, that is right, one of our lucky patients is going to win $1,000,000. This might have worked with Dotty.

Well just another one of my simple ideas that is going down the toilet.

Not to the research below. Are you taking your cholesterol medications, statins, as prescribed? Thinking what the heck?

Look at it this way. Let's say you delay the onset of Alzheimer's by five years by being meticulous about taking your statins.

Thinking no way, big deal, who cares?

Well, I can say if Dotty had another five years before she entered a state of full blown dementia that would have been wonderful.

Okay enough already. You decide what is best for you.

Think about the research implications described below.

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Cholesterol drug shows benefit in animal study of Alzheimer's disease
Improvement shown in blood vessel function following drug treatment

A cholesterol drug commonly prescribed to reduce cardiovascular disease risk restores blood vessel function in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease, according to a study in the April 4 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.

The drug simvastatin (Zocor®) — which works by slowing cholesterol production — also improves learning and memory in adult, but not aged Alzheimer's model mice. The findings add to a growing body of evidence that early treatment with statins protects against some of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's disease destroys nerve cells and compromises the function of blood vessels in the brain.

Recent studies show people who begin taking statins as adults have reduced incidence of Alzheimer's disease, while those who do not take them until they are older do not experience this benefit. While these studies point to the age-dependent benefits of statins, scientists continue to question how cholesterol treatment affects brain function in Alzheimer's disease.

In a previous study, Edith Hamel, PhD, and colleagues at McGill University tested older Alzheimer's model mice (age twelve months) that received a low dose of simvastatin for eight weeks. The drug helped improve blood vessel function, but did not boost memory in the older mice.

In the new study, Hamel's group tested younger mice (age six months) and older mice (age twelve months) that received a higher dose of simvastatin for three to six months. While simvastatin restored brain blood vessel function in both groups, only the younger mice showed improvements in learning and memory tests. These younger mice also had higher levels of two memory-related proteins in the hippocampus — a brain region involved in learning and memory — compared with untreated mice.
"This study shows that simvastatin can protect against some of the damaging effects of Alzheimer's disease on nerve cells involved in memory, if administered early in the disease process," said Hamel, the study's senior author.
In people with Alzheimer's disease, protein fragments called amyloid-β (Aβ) form plaques between nerve cells that disrupt cell communication. Normally, these protein fragments are broken down and removed.

In Alzheimer's disease, the protein fragments clump together — a factor believed to contribute to memory loss. Hamel's team measured the presence of Aβ proteins in younger and older Alzheimer's model mice that received simvastatin. Despite the learning and memory improvements in younger mice, the drug did not reduce Aβ protein levels in either group.
"This article joins an increasing number of preclinical studies demonstrating that statins, in particular simvastatin — which easily penetrates the brain — can counteract some aspects of Alzheimer's disease, despite seeing no effects on amyloid-β protein," said Ling Li, PhD, an Alzheimer's expert from the University of Minnesota. "Although several clinical trials have yet to show the benefits of statins for Alzheimer's disease, the key now is to figure out how to translate these exciting findings from bench to bedside," she added.

The research was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The Journal of Neuroscience is published by the Society for Neuroscience, an organization of more than 40,000 basic scientists and clinicians who study the brain and nervous system.

Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The blog contains more than 3,461 articles with more than 397,100 links on the Internet. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room