Cholesterol Drugs Linked to Parkinson’s

A new study published today has suggested a connection between statins (drugs used to lower cholesterol) and the development of Parkinson’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 Parkinson’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 “provides the strongest evidence to date” of a link between statins and Parkinson’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–Pfizer’s Lipitor alone accounts for more than $12 billion in annual sales–Huang fears a big surge in the number of Parkinson’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 “bad” cholesterol) are associated with increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Dr. Huang’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 “statistical association,” not any kind of causation.

In fact, some researchers believe that the association may be reversed: that Parkinson’s may actually cause low LDL levels. Even Huang herself declared that the benefits of statins in reducing LDL cholesterol far outweighed any Parkinson’s risk. Still, she is concerned that, because of the enormous number of patients taking statins worldwide, we may see a tremendous rise in Parkinson’s disease–if indeed a definitive link is found between the cholesterol drugs and the disease.

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