A new study published today has suggested a connection between statins (drugs used to lower cholesterol) and the development of ParkinsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s disease. Researchers at the University of North Carolina found that patients with low levels of LDL cholesterol are upward of three and a half times more likely to develop ParkinsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s disease than those with higher LDL levels. Their study was presented in Chemistry & Industry, the journal of the British Society of Chemical Industry (SCI).
The SCI contends that the new study Ã¢â‚¬Å“provides the strongest evidence to dateÃ¢â‚¬Â of a link between statins and ParkinsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s. Lead researcher Dr. Xuemei Huang announced her plans for a large 16,000-patient study in order to test the theory. (Doctors at Harvard University are also conducting a large-scale trial to examine the link.) Since statins have become perhaps the most popular medications in the world–PfizerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Lipitor alone accounts for more than $12 billion in annual sales–Huang fears a big surge in the number of ParkinsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s diagnoses during the next five years. By then, statins will have been in common usage for more than a decade.
High levels of LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, cholesterol (the Ã¢â‚¬Å“badÃ¢â‚¬Â cholesterol) are associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Dr. HuangÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s study examined 236 patients with different LDL levels and determined that those with the lowest levels were three and a half times more likely to have the disease than patients with higher levels. However, critics believe that the study has merely proven a Ã¢â‚¬Å“statistical association,Ã¢â‚¬Â not any kind of causation.
In fact, some researchers believe that the association may be reversed: that ParkinsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s may actually cause low LDL levels. Even Huang herself declared that the benefits of statins in reducing LDL cholesterol far outweighed any ParkinsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s risk. Still, she is concerned that, because of the enormous number of patients taking statins worldwide, we may see a tremendous rise in ParkinsonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s disease–if indeed a definitive link is found between the cholesterol drugs and the disease.