Dr's Casebook: Research shows statins may protect against depression

The pandemic has taken a huge toll on people across the world.

By Jane Chippindale
Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 4:53 pm

Dr Keith Souter writes: It has been a time of great stress, causing anxiety about contracting the virus. All of the restrictions and lockdowns made many people feel vulnerable, isolated and depressed.

In terms of research, it caused scientists to think outside of the box.

You may have heard of drug repurposing. Essentially, it is the process of finding and developing new uses for a drug beyond its original use.

Statins, which lower cholesterol and which prevent many heart attacks and strokes may also be protective against depression. Photo: AdobeStock

At the start of the pandemic there was no really effective drug against Covid-19. As a result, alongside the development of vaccines, doctors started looking at drugs used to treat other conditions that might be useful against the virus and help to thwart its complications.

New research from Oxford published in Biological Psychiatry strongly suggests that statins, which lower cholesterol and which prevent many heart attacks and strokes may also be protective against depression.

Researchers recruited over 2,000 participants between April 2020 and February 2021, when it was found that the incidence of psychiatric disorders reached a peak.

The participants were all questioned about psychiatric symptoms, any medication that they were taking and other lifestyle factors.

They performed cognitive tests to measure memory and emotional processing, which are linked to risk of depression. One particular cognitive test was done to see if the individual could identify the emotional expressions of faces. These displayed a range of emotions including various stages of fear, happiness, sadness, disgust or anger.

Rather surprisingly they found that those people taking statins were less likely to recognize fearful or angry faces and more likely to report them as positive. This indicates that they had reduced negative emotional bias. This was not seen in those people taking other medications, such as blood pressure drugs, unless they were also taking statins.

It is already known that reducing negative emotional bias can be important for the treatment of depression, so statins may be protective against the condition.

This may be because they have an anti-inflammatory effect in addition to their cholesterol lowering ability.It may also be that the reduction in the effects of stress could be part of the reason that they are so beneficial in reducing heart attacks and strokes.

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