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Cholesterol drug may prevent Alzheimer's

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- It's already known to dramatically reduce heart attacks and strokes. Now there's evidence that a commonly used cholesterol drug may also prevent Alzheimer's disease.

About 4 million Americans now suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and that number is expected to quadruple in coming years as the population ages. But scientists believe that statins -- better known by the brand names Lipitor, Zocor and Pravachol -- could help delay memory loss.

"What we found was that patients taking statins have a 60 to 70 percent reduction in the risk of Alzheimer's disease," said Dr. Benjamin Wolozin of Loyola University Medical Center in Illinois.

Scientists may have thought the surprising results a fluke, but a second study by a different research team came to the same conclusion.

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Alzheimer's Disease

"This is something that could be an important link, important future treatment for Alzheimer's," Wolozin said.

More studies under way

Researchers say the new findings make sense, since evidence has been accumulating from animal studies that cholesterol contributes to the build-up of amyloid plaques in the brain, a characteristic of Alzheimer's disease.

Although statins are considered safe and have few side effects, researchers say it would be premature to begin using them to prevent dementia or treat Alzheimer's.

The first study in the United States is under way to see if Lipitor is effective in treating the disease.

"We're attempting to slow the progression of the disease, based on the premise that there's this intimate link between cholesterol and the Alzheimer's toxin, beta amyloid," said scientist Larry Sparks of the Sun Health Research Institute in Arizona.

European researchers are studying the effects of Pravachol in almost 6,000 elderly people at risk for both cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer's.

"The aim in this study is to show that the use of Pravastatin to reduce their cholesterol levels will significantly reduce heart attacks, significantly reduce strokes and, most importantly, have an effect on the progression of cognitive decline," said Dr. Ian Ford of the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

Study: Vascular problems in middle age increase risk of later dementia
May 2, 2000
Researchers find evidence that brain 'plaque' causes Alzheimer's
March 21, 2000
Study: Estrogen not effective treatment for Alzheimer's
February 22, 2000
Cholesterol-lowering drugs may work as well as heart surgery
July 7, 1999

Alzheimer's Association
Sun Health Research Institute
The University of Glasgow
Loyola University Health System

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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