Statins could protect against depression as study finds mental health link

Statins, which are used to lower cholesterol, may also provide positive mental health benefits, according to a new study.

The medicine is typically used to protect against heart disease and stroke, and can reduce cholesterol by around 30%, or sometimes even 50% with high doses.

But the study which involved 2,000 UK participants has found possible links between statins and improved mental health, the Mirror reports.

The participants of the study informed researchers of their current psychiatric symptoms, medications and other lifestyle factors.

Participants carried out cognitive tasks throughout the study, in order to monitor their memory and emotion processing.

The vast majority of subjects (84%) were not taking medication, but a small group (4%) were taking only statins. 6% were on a different class of anti-hypertension medication, and 5% were taking both statins and other anti-hypertension meds.

Researchers found participants taking statins were less likely to recognize fearful or angry faces and more likely to report them as positive, indicating they had reduced negative emotional bias.

The study concluded: “Statin use was associated with cognitive markers indicative of reduced psychological vulnerability to depression, supporting their potential use as a prophylactic treatment for depression.”

“We found that taking a statin medication was associated with significantly lower levels of negative emotional bias when interpreting facial expressions; this was not seen with other medications, such as blood pressure medications, ”said lead researcher Dr Amy Gillespie of Oxford University.

She added: “We know that reducing negative emotional bias can be important for the treatment of depression.

“Our findings are important as they provide evidence that statins may provide protection against depression.”

Their findings also “provide the first potential psychological explanation of statins’ mental health benefits”, she said.

It remains unclear exactly how statins could protect against mental illness, but one possibility is that they may work through anti-inflammatory mechanisms, which have also been implicated in depression.

Dr John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry, said: “Statins are among the most commonly prescribed medications based on their ability to prevent heart attacks and strokes.

“These new data raise the possibility that some of their positive effects on health could be mediated by the effects of these drugs on the brain that promote emotional resilience.”

“Researchers should prioritize investigating the possible use of statins as a preventative intervention for depression,” Dr. Gillespie went on.

“Before using in clinical practice, it is important that future research confirms the potential psychological benefits of statins through controlled, randomized clinical trials.”

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