Three new studies presented at an international Alzheimer's meeting underlined an apparent link between the use of best-selling cholesterol drugs, known as statins, and a reduced risk of developing the degenerative brain disorder.
Dr. Robert Green and colleagues at Boston University School of Medicine found that individuals taking statins to lower cholesterol reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer's by 29 percent.
The 2,378-patient study was the largest to date exploring the links between the disease and statins, use of which has grown rapidly in recent years, led by products such as Pfizer Inc's Lipitor and Merck & Co Inc's Zocor.
The reason for the connection is not immediately clear, but Brian Austen of St George's Hospital Medical School in London thinks he may have part of the answer.
Using laboratory cell cultures, Austen and his colleagues found that statins dramatically lowered the production of beta-amyloid, the protein "plaque" that clumps together in the brains of Alzheimer's sufferers.
His work was echoed in findings presented at the 8th International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease and Related Disorders by Tsuneo Yamazaki of the department of Neuropathology at the University Tokyo.
Yamazaki's team found that statins reduced production of beta-amyloids in cell culture, with the reduction directly proportional to the statin dose.
"The current generation of statin studies is very exciting in that they may give us a way to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease," said William Thies, vice president of medical and scientific affairs for the Alzheimer's Association.
A major randomized clinical trial is now starting in the United States in a bid to confirm the notion that statins can reduce Alzheimer's risk.
An estimated 12 million people suffer from Alzheimer's worldwide -- a figure that could balloon to 45 million by 2050 as people live longer, according to the latest estimates.