New studies led by researchers at Penn State College may have found that statins, cholesterol lowering drugs, do not reduce Parkinson’s risk after all. Currently there is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, a neurological disorder that is caused by the death of dopamine cells in the brain. Past studies have suggested that statins provide neurological benefits in the brain, particularly targeting the dopaminergic pathways. On the contrary, new research found that high cholesterol, specifically LDL, may have caused these neurological benefits.
Parkinson’s and Cholesterol
Xuemei Huang, a vice president for research and professor of neurology at Penn State College, and his team found associations between high LDL cholesterol and lower risks of Parkinson’s disease. Huang’s biggest claim against past research supporting statins and lower risks of Parkinson’s disease is that the studies did not take into account cholesterol levels before the widespread use of statins.
His team focused on participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities between 1987 and 1998. Huang wanted to analyze the participants blood cholesterol levels, medications used, and Parkinson’s diagnoses before the widespread use of statins.
What they found is that while high total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol were associated with lower risk of Parkinson’s, statin use was not. “Statin use over the course of the study did not protect against PD, and in fact appeared to increase PD risk in the long term,” Huang states. Though statins have been extremely beneficial for the prevention and treatment of vascular disease, Huang believes it is important to recognize that statins might not be a ‘cure-all’ drug. “This might be a case where what’s good for the heart isn’t good for the brain,” says Huang.
A Hopeful Future
Although the study investigated a small sample size, only 56 cases of Parkinson’s, Huang believes this preliminary research is essential in investigating why higher cholesterol may protect against Parkinson’s disease. There is so much to learn about Parkinson’s and other chronic diseases.
Findings such as this gives us hope that one day we will have successful prevention and treatment options for Parkinson’s disease, which is estimated to currently affect one million people each year. And though we have yet to find a cure, there is more research coming out on how a healthier life style may be able to prevent these chronic diseases.
More and more research is coming out on how truly important it is to incorporate exercise into our daily routine. There are even studies investigating how therapeutic yoga can help in fall prevention and even aid in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. As we age it is essential to take care of your body and constantly challenge ourselves to stay active and healthy.