A new study has been published which suggests that taking statins could considerably lower the risk of getting Alzheimer's disease.

The study, conducted at Boston University from 2002 and published in the journal Neurology suggest that the cholesterol-lowering drugs might cut the risk of getting Alzheimer's by as much as 79%. The results were described by co-author Eric Larson as “exciting [and] novel and [they] have important implications for prevention strategies," although he acknowledged that further studies would be needed to confirm the findings.

The researchers looked data from brain autopsies performed on 110 patients who died between the ages of 65 and 79, of which 36% had received statins. After controlling for variables including age, gender and history of strokes, the data revealed that the brains of the patients who took statins had significantly fewer neurofibrillary tangles, considered a marker of Alzheimer's disease, compared with those who did not take the drugs.

"To our knowledge, this is the first study demonstrating an association between statin exposure and neuropathologic changes associated with Alzheimer's disease," the authors remarked. Dr Larson noted that "anything we can do to lower the vascular risk profile could lower the risk of Alzheimer's," and claimed that "statins may be working on a more molecular level, by actually blocking the formation" of neurofibrillary tangles. Lead author Gail Li of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, noted that "statins are probably more likely to help prevent the disease in certain kinds of people than others."

Commenting on the news, William Thies, vice president of medical and scientific relations of the Alzheimer's Association in the USA, was reported as saying that the data "does give us some additional hope that statins may turn out to have a useful relationship in slowing Alzheimer's disease."