Check out the latest episodes of our Life Science and Food Industry Podcasts. Available everywhere!


Parkinson’s Awareness Month: Statins May Lower Parkinsonism Risk in Older Adults

Parkinson’s Awareness Month: Statins May Lower Parkinsonism Risk in Older Adults

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month. Parkinsonism refers to the movement problems seen in conditions like Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s disease is the most common type of parkinsonism.

April is Parkinson’s Awareness Month and World Parkinson’s Day is marked on April 11 each year to help raise awareness about the disease and the reality faced by individuals living with it. More than 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s disease, and in the US, nearly 60,000 people are diagnosed with Parkinson’s each year. Gaining greater insights into the causes and mechanisms of Parkinson’s is imperative to finding effective treatments for the disease.

Furthering our understanding of Parkinson’s disease and potential treatments and preventative options, a new study by researchers at Rush University Medical Center, published in the online issue of the journal Neurology, shows that older adults that take cholesterol-lowering statin drugs may have a lower chance of developing parkinsonism compared with those who do not take them.

Parkinsonism is a term for a group of neurological conditions that cause movement issues such as tremors and slowed movement and stiffness. Parkinson’s disease is a type of parkinsonism, accounting for nearly 80 percent of all parkinsonism cases. Parkinsonism and Parkinson’s disease can often be confused with each other but an important distinction is that while parkinsonism usually doesn’t involve a tremor and affects both sides of the body, Parkinson’s disease generally affects one side more than the other.

Statins are a class of drugs used to help lower cholesterol in the blood and prevent atherosclerosis caused by the build-up of cholesterol-containing plaque in arteries. The drugs have also been shown to have anti-cancer and neuroprotective effects.

Related: Parkinson’s and Melanoma Share an Amyloid Link, Says New Research

“Our results suggest people using statins may have a lower risk of parkinsonism and that may be partly caused by the protective effect statins may have on arteries in the brain,” said study author Shahram Oveisgharan, MD, of Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, in a news release.

“Movement problems in older adults are common and often debilitating and generally untreatable. If statins can decrease the risk of people developing parkinsonism movement disorders, that could be good news for the 60,000 people who develop them,” said Dr. Oveisgharan.

The study involved 2,841 participants with an average age of 76. The participants did not have parkinsonism at the start of the study and roughly 33 percent (936 individuals) were taking statins.

Participants were assessed annually for an average of six years to look for signs of parkinsonism and the status of their statin use. People who had two or more of the following symptoms were considered to have the disorder: tremor, stiffness, parkinsonian gait (characterized by small shuffling steps and overall slow movement) or bradykinesia (difficulty with voluntarily moving the body quickly).

At the end of the study, results showed that 50 percent (1,432) of the participants developed signs of parkinsonism. Of the 936 who took statins, 45 percent (418) developed parkinsonism six years later compared with 53 percent among the 1,905 people who had not used statins.

Of the individuals who had been taking statins, those that were taking moderate or high-intensity doses (79 percent of the group) had a seven percent lower risk of parkinsonism than those who were taking low-intensity statins.

After adjusting for age, sex and vascular risks, such as smoking and diabetes that could impact parkinsonism risk, the investigators found that those who had been taking statins, on average, had a 16 percent lower risk of developing parkinsonism six years later compared to those who had not been taking them.

A caveat of the study is that since parkinsonism assessments were not performed by movement disorder specialists, Parkinson’s disease could have been misclassified.

The researchers also looked at the brains of the 1,044 individuals who died during the study time period. They found that people who had been on statins had a 37 percent lower risk of atherosclerosis compared to those who had not been taking statins.

Dr. Oveisgharan said although more research is required, statins could be used in the future “to help reduce the effects of parkinsonism in the general population of older adults, not just people with high cholesterol or who are at risk for stroke.”

“At a minimum, our study suggests brain scans or vascular testing may be beneficial for older adults who show signs of parkinsonism but don’t have classic signs of Parkinson’s disease or do not respond to Parkinson’s disease medications,” he said.