Do Statins Really Cause Memory Loss?

Research is conflicting on whether statins can cause memory loss. Statins are a prescription medication that is used to treat high cholesterol.

High cholesterol increases your risk of chronic health conditions, including vascular disease, strokes, and heart attacks. Taking statins as prescribed is an important way to lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of these conditions.

Statins are safe and beneficial for most people but they do have side effects and drug interactions.

This article will go over what research shows about cognitive problems and statins, including whether there is any evidence of memory loss being linked to taking statins.

Lipitor pills
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Statins Cause Memory Loss: Where Did the Claim Come From?

The claim that statins cause memory loss gained traction in 2008 when Orli Etingin, then vice chairman of medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital told The Wall Street Journal that the drug Lipitor “makes women stupid.”

Etingin claimed that several of her patients who were taking statins reported that they could not concentrate or remember words, or otherwise had experienced cognitive deficits. Etingin claimed that these problems went away when the patients stopped taking statins.

Although the claims got media attention, Etingin was not the first person to bring up concerns about a link between statins to memory loss—there had been anecdotal reports of statin use and cognitive issues for years.

Are any of these claims backed by research? Has any evidence actually shown that statins can cause memory problems?

Statins and Memory Loss: Is There Evidence?

After the claims about a link between cognitive problems and statins emerged, a group of researchers set out to determine if there was research evidence to support the anecdotes.

What Is Anecdotal Evidence?

Anecdotal evidence is based on the experiences people report and the observations they have made. They are not based on data from scientific research.

To that end, the researchers conducted a review of the medical literature and published their results in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2013.

The researchers did not find an association between statins and mental problems. However, they admitted that none of the major randomized trials with statins that they had reviewed systematically looked for cognitive decline and that the symptom could have been subtle.

Therefore, the researchers concluded that no definitive statement could be made one way or the other about statins and memory problems.

Another major review of research published in 2021 looked at 24 studies that included 1,404,459 people to see if statin use was linked to cognitive impairment.

The researchers concluded that "there was no evidence of adverse cognitive effects, including [the] incidence of dementia, deterioration in global cognition, or specific cognitive domains associated with statin use in individuals aged ≥60 years," but that "studies should examine this association in studies with longer follow-up periods."

Studies on Statins and Memory Loss

In the last decade, there have been more studies looking for evidence of a relationship between statins and memory problems. Here are a few examples of what the findings showed:

  • A review of research from 2013 published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings did not find evidence of memory problems associated with statin use; in fact, the findings suggested that taking statins for more than a year was actually associated with protection against dementia.
  • In 2015, researchers in Australia looked at how many people taking statins reported memory-related side effects compared to people taking other drugs that lowered cholesterol. They found no significant difference in these reports between people taking statins and people who were not taking statins.
  • Another study from 2015 looked at medical records from more than 11 million people. The researchers found that people who took statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications were more likely to report memory loss than people who did not take cholesterol medication. However, the researchers were not sure that it was really the statins that were causing the memory loss. They noted that the results could have been an example of detection bias. In this case, it could have been that people were having memory problems that were not related to the medication at all, but they were more likely to talk to their providers about it after they started the medication because they assumed it was a side effect.
  • In 2018, researchers reviewed research on cognitive function and statin use in older adults. They found that there was evidence on both sides of the argument, writing that "the current literature supports the hypothesis that statins are potentially responsible for both reversible short-term cognitive impairment as well as a decreased risk of dementia." They concluded that providers needed to consider the risks for each patient when prescribing statins.
  • Another Australian study from 2019 did not find evidence of a greater decline in memory among older adults taking statins over six years compared to people who didn't take statins.
  • One large multi-center study published in 2020 did not find an association between statin use and dementia. However, the results did suggest a possible association between statin use and cognitive changes in early-stage mild cognitive impairment. The researchers stated that additional randomized trials would be helpful for looking more closely at the possible link.
  • Another 2020 study found the possible cognitive effects of statins might be more related to a person's age: the researchers "identified that statin effects varied in quality, strength, and appearance depending on user age. Specifically, statins improved reaction time in older persons and fluid intelligence in both age groups, while leading to a working memory decline in middle-aged users."
  • A study on statin use in people with a genetic risk for Alzheimer's, published in 2020, found that some people with the APOE4 Alzheimer's gene might be more likely to have memory-related side effects from statins. However, having high cholesterol was also associated with worse performance on memory tests in people who did not have the gene. Therefore, the researchers concluded that both cholesterol levels and statin use "may have differential effects on verbal learning and/or memory depending on genetic risk for [Alzheimer's] and that "women appear to be particularly vulnerable to statin use depending on their APOE4 status."
  • A study looking at statins and dementia from the ASPREE trial was published in 2021. The findings showed that statin use does not increase the risk of dementia and cognitive decline. However, the researchers said that the findings need to be confirmed by data from ongoing randomized trials.
  • In 2022, researchers looked at whether giving high-intensity statins to participants in a study would affect their performance on cognitive tests after 6 months. They did not see any significant changes in the participants' scores.

Should I Take Statins If I Have Memory Problems?

Research on the link between memory loss/cognitive problems, and statin use has not reached a clear "yes or no" answer about whether there is a causal relationship.

If your provider wants you to take a statin, they have decided that any risk or side effects related to the medication are worth the benefits you will get from taking it.

If you're concerned that taking a statin will affect your memory, if you already have cognitive problems, or you're at risk for conditions like dementia or Alzheimer's, talk to your provider.

Statins: Is Memory Loss a Side Effect?

Statins can have side effects, but not everyone experiences them. One common side effect of statins is muscle pain (myalgia). Some people who take statins may have changes to their liver function or blood sugar levels (especially if they have or are at risk for liver disease or diabetes)

Many people take statins without any problems. If people do have side effects from taking statins, they usually go away with time. If they don't, the side effects will often get better once a person stops taking a statin.

According to the American Heart Association, there is a lot of evidence that muscle pain can be a side effect of statins. While people taking statins sometimes report sleep disruption, memory problems, and cataracts, there is less evidence to prove that the drugs are the cause.

FDA Guidance on Statins and Memory

As of 2012, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated its guidance on statin use to include memory loss and confusion as potential side effects. However, they noted that these side effects are considered "non-serious" and reversible.

Statins and "Brain Fog"

Some people taking statins report that they have "brain fog." While brain fog can make it feel hard to remember things, it's not the same as true memory loss from a condition like dementia.

Brain fog can also be caused by many other things, including hormone changes, stress, poor sleep, and mental health conditions. A person taking a statin who has brain fog symptoms may think the drug is the cause, but it could be something else.

Summary

Researchers have yet to reach an agreement about whether statins are or are not linked to memory loss. To prove that there's a causal link between statins and memory loss, a prospective randomized trial designed to study the neurocognitive effects of statins would need to be done.

Until there is more research done on memory loss and statins, what should providers and patients do if they are concerned about the drug's potential effect on brain function?

Keep in mind that even if evidence shows that statins do cause memory problems, it may not be a common problem—and it may even be reversible. It's likely that if a person stopped taking the medication, the effect would get better.

If you have been prescribed a statin, never stop taking it without talking to your provider. If you are worried about the drug's possible effects or you notice changes to your thinking or memory, talk to your provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can statins affect your memory?

    According to the FDA, some people taking statins may have temporary, non-serious memory problems as a side effect.

  • Is statin memory loss reversible?

    If people experience memory-related side effects from statins, they are not permanent. The side effects will go away as soon as the medication is stopped.

  • Can statins lead to dementia?

    There is no evidence that statin use causes dementia. In fact, some studies have suggested statin use may have a protective effect.

  • Is there a link between statins and Alzheimer's?

    There is no evidence that statins cause Alzheimer's. However, a small study did note that statin use in people who have a gene that increases their risk for Alzheimer's did not do as well on memory tests. However, people who did not have that gene but who had high cholesterol also did not do as well on the tests.

16 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Richard N. Fogoros, MD
Richard N. Fogoros, MD, is a retired professor of medicine and board-certified in internal medicine, clinical cardiology, and clinical electrophysiology.