The effects on brain function by statins have been of particular concern to me. Pfreiger has documented the effect of cholesterol deprivation on synaptic formation and function. We think much of the amnesia, forgetfulness, disorientation and confusion with statin drug use results from this synaptic effect.
The collateral damage to the vital CoQ10 and dolichol metabolic pathways, branching off beyond statin drugs' reductase block, cannot be denied and surprisingly, both pathways can be tied to neuronal function. The side effects of CoQ10 inhibition range from the energy lack of altered mitichondrial function and the loss of cell wall integrity.The side effects of dolichol inhibition include a broad spectrum of behavioral and affective disorders resulting from impaired neuropeptide synthesis. Now we find that the puzzling association of statin use with onset of such neurodegenerative diseases as MS, ALS, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimers might relate to the surprising tendency for formation of tau protein when the mevalonate pathway is statin suppressed.
Meske found in his neuron cell cultures that blocking the usual cholesterol dependent pathway with lovastatin (Mevacor) evoked not only degeneration of the neuritic network of the neurons under study but also a transient increase of tau phosphorylation. To refresh your memory, Tau is that protein so prominently deposited in the brains in Alzheimers patients and also has been observed in other of the neuro-degenerative diseases.
While blocking cholesterol, statins appear to block the more natural mevalonate pathways resulting in activation of abnormal Tau phosphorylation. I cite this evolving research area only to document the existence of yet another means by which statin drugs can cause such diverse central nervous system side effects in susceptible individuals.
A large number of people have reported persistent short-term memory loss associated with statin drug use. One of the most widely publicized cases was the Hope case wherein a former CEO was reduced to an unemployable status due to negligible ability for short-term recall following prolonged use of Lipitor. Smart Money magazine carried this story.
Only by frequent cell phone calls with his wife, notepads, and other mechanical and electronic aids to memory was he able to be trusted with even the most menial of tasks. A complete array of medical and psychological testing revealed only short-term memory loss with no evidence of pathology. Even the most skeptical of medical specialists, of the dozens with whom he came in contact in several years of follow-up, finally had to admit probable statin causality.
This case and many others has challenged physicians to devise a reasonable treatment plan for such statin damaged people. Hope is not alone; there are many more like him and the list is growing steadily. To my knowledge, no one has significant experience in this area of persistent short-term memory impairment following statin use to advise, so one must resort to theory.
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Duane Graveline MD MPH
Former USAF Flight Surgeon
Former NASA Astronaut
Retired Family Doctor