Statins: Worth Losing Cognition and Orgasms?

 

statins cognition

Can taking a statin impair cognition—and maybe inhibit orgasms?  Possibly. Might there be better alternatives? Possibly, depending upon the individual.

Physician and neuro-imaging specialist Douglas Bremner explained the potential risk on his blog [no longer available].   Driving down your cholesterol score with statins, he claims, might not be a bright—or sexy—idea.

Bremner previously wrote regularly about medical issues at his blog, an offshoot of his book Before You Take that Pill: Why the Drug Industry May Be Bad for Your Health.

In 2009, he co-published this paper concerning the industry-sponsored JUPITER trials: JUPITER: A Few Words of Caution. The paper’s conclusion, in part:

At the current status of knowledge, behavioral prevention strategies remain the best investment for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors in predominantly healthy individuals.

According to a 2018 paper in the journal Translational Neurodegeneration (The role of statins in both cognitive impairment and protection against dementia: a tale of two mechanisms):

Being mindful of the complex effects of statins, health care providers need to be able to identify patients who are at risk for or already experiencing cognitive impairment from statin use while also identifying those who could potentially decrease their risk of dementia with statins.

What Does This Have To Do with ADHD?

Maybe nothing.  Or maybe something. But it’s worth mentioning in this brief post—along with potential alternatives.

I can’t help but suspect but cannot quantify: Statins are being inordinately prescribed to adults with untreated ADHD.

Why?

  • ADHD symptoms can conspire to create a dismal health picture and make it hard to implement lifestyle changes.
  • Low initiation and motivation often mean meager exercise or erratic routines (overdoing it for a while and then underdoing it).
  • Disorganization makes it difficult to plan and prepare healthy meals.
  • “Self-medicating” with sugar, sodas, and unhealthy snacks creates a host of health problems, including diabetes and yes, high levels of “bad cholesterol.”

For these people, using statins to treat the symptoms of high cholesterol and triglycerides might not be the best solution. Two reasons:

  1. As Dr. Bremner points out, statins can actually decrease cognitive function. That’s not a good thing for adults who are already suffering from cognitive impairments.
  2. What if treating the ADHD first meant not only better functioning but greater health?

Why might physicians resort to statins instead of guiding their patients in developing healthier lifestyles? One reason commonly offered is: “People just won’t follow through!”

But think about it: Many people do follow through. So what’s different from those who cannot?

ADHD should at least be ruled out, don’t you think? When ADHD is treated, patients are better able to organize, initiate, and in general practice better self-care.

Our Bodies and Brains Need Cholesterol

We hear a lot about cholesterol—but mostly about its dangers. We seldom hear that our brains (and the rest of our bodies, too) need cholesterol.

According to Harvard (Medical School) Health Publishing: https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/cholesterol

Cholesterol isn’t entirely the health villain it’s made out to be, its name darkly linked to heart attack, stroke, and other types of cardiovascular disease.

Our bodies need cholesterol, which is a type of lipid (another name for fat) to make cell membranes, key hormones like testosterone and estrogen, the bile acids needed to digest and absorb fats, and vitamin D.

Cholesterol is so important to the body that the liver and intestines make it from scratch.

Nutritional Deficiencies Adversely Affect Cholesterol

Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can adversely affect cholesterol and triglycerides. Addressing those deficiencies might improve both—not to mention improve overall health.

For example, several studies have shown magnesium’s “statin-like” positive effect on cholesterol. This one is co-authored by the leading magnesium researcher, Mildred Seelig, MD, now deceased: Comparison of mechanism and functional effects of magnesium and statin pharmaceuticals.

An excerpt from the abstract:

Mg is also necessary for the activity of lecithin cholesterol acyltransferase (LCAT), which lowers LDL-C and triglyceride levels and raises HDL-C levels…. Mg at optimal cellular concentration is well accepted as a natural calcium channel blocker. More recent work shows that Mg also acts as a statin.

Moreover, if you are magnesium-deficient, that can be affecting you in many other ways, too. I’ve heard from many people with ADHD that magnesium supplements helped with their Restless Legs Syndrome.

From the Cleveland Clinic’s page on Restless Legs Syndrome:  https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-doctor-approved-home-remedies-for-restless-legs-syndrome/

“Anecdotally, magnesium may be helpful to relieve restless legs, and it is a natural muscle relaxant,” Dr. Vensel-Rundo says. She recommends taking magnesium separately rather than as part of a multivitamin.

For more information about magnesium, visit this page from the U.S. National Institutes of health.

Can Taking a Stimulant Normalize Mineral Uptake?

Speaking of Restless Legs Syndrome, many patients are prescribed iron supplements to treat it.  This is definitely something you don’t try without consulting your doctor. Too much iron can be very harmful.

But what if taking a stimulant helped a person make better use of the iron in his normal diet?

Consider this interesting bit of preliminary research I reported on in 2016: Can Stimulants Normalize Iron Uptake in Individuals with ADHD? Maybe

Excerpt:

Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have reduced iron levels in the brain, which normalize with stimulant medication, the research suggests.

Investigators at the Medical University of South Carolina Center for Biomedical Imaging in Charleston found that medication-naive patients with ADHD had significantly lower brain iron levels compared with their counterparts who had been receiving psychostimulant medication.

The researchers also found that ADHD patients with a history of psychostimulant medication treatment had brain iron levels comparable with those of control individuals, suggesting that brain iron levels may increase to normal levels with psychostimulant treatment.

The bottom line in this post: Treating ADHD and addressing vitamin and mineral deficiencies might help you to avoid chronic health conditions—and the potentially cognition-impairing medications used to treat them.

Your Comments Welcome!

—Gina Pera

 

7 thoughts on “Statins: Worth Losing Cognition and Orgasms?”

  1. Thank you so much for this article.

    I am convinced my husband is an adult with ADHD. I stumbled across this via Google because my husband also has high cholesterol despite having gastric bypass surgery. Mine is very low but I sleep very well.

    Is there also a link between sleep and cholesterol? Because I am convinced not getting enough sleep and the stress is going to give him a heart attack. I am very concerned about his health.

    I am going to read more into statins.

    1. Hi Amalia,

      Thanks for visiting.

      I don’t know about a link between sleep and cholesterol, but I do know that many people with untreated ADHD have trouble sleeping.

      There are also issues with obesity for some people with ADHD. One study showed that stimulant medication helped them lose weight after all other “diet” attempts had failed.

      A friend of mine had a gastric-bypass before learning that she had ADHD. I was shocked (but not surprised) that the surgeons didn’t screen her for ADHD.

      I’ve written other posts about ADHD and sleep and obesity, both on this blog and at http://www.youmeadd.org You might want to check them out.

      best,
      g

  2. And thanks for setting us straight on the statins, Dr. Bremner. A scientist friend of mine was trying to convince me they’re the bees knees, but I wasn’t so sure…

    Jeff, do you think real-life doctors are too busy or most really don’t know the questions to ask? My personal physician has stopped taking insurance so the bean counters don’t dictate the way she practices medicine, and I pay out of pocket to see her. Health reform…where do we begin…

  3. Thanks for your comments, Dr. Parker.

    I haven’t seen a recent study on tonsillectomy vis a vis ADHD/ sleep apnea, but one that was widely cited from a year or two ago did not convince me that the surgeons have this one right, as least as far as their claim: That tonsillectomy can essentially “cure” ADHD.

    I think the study I recall had an n of 10, and the follow up consisted of about 6 months. Given no independent verification, I’m prone to suspect that the parents (who perhaps wanted to avoid ADHD medication) and the surgeons (who perhaps wanted to claim new territory in the growth industry that is ADHD) did a little wishful thinking. 😉

    Moreover, in my experience, kids with ADHD are more prone to having allergies. Once the allergies and ADHD are addressed, the tonsils often recede. The same is true for many people with ADHD I know who have had the various “soft palate” and other 16th-Century-sounding surgeries recommended by the sleep experts. They might get better sleep, but their ADHD remains.

    But what do I know? I’m just a layperson observer. Maybe you even wrote a post about that at http://www.corepsychblog.com

  4. Hi Gina,

    Our primary brain cells that are responsible for everything our brain does, including paying attention and everything else that goes into things like ADD, need cholesterol for their basic building blocks. There has long been a debate about whether very low levels of LDL cholesterol increase the risk of suicide, and whether cholesterol lowering with statins could cause that. More recently there has been an appreciation that statins can affect your think, which led to one physician stating that “Statins make people stupid” and led to another physician writing a whole book called “Lipitor thief of memory”. Since sexual function is controlled by the brain we shouldnt be surprised that this recent study showed that statins can affect this, and since ADD is a brain based disorder we should not be surprised that it affects this too. Granted I am not saying never take statins. In men with heart disease they reduce risk of death, in men with risk factors or women with heart disease they reduce risk of heart attack, but in women without risk factors they do little. However many men with “risk factors” would probably be better off without them. Use diet and exercise to reduce risk factors rather than taking statins.

  5. Gina,
    Thanks for bringing Bremner’s interesting material to the table, with such an excellent review of this material on statins, stupidity and ADHD.

    I can confirm, from my own watch on the passing ADHD scene, that sleep apnea is clearly related to ADHD, and just heard this week an interesting piece on NPR about sleep apnea and ADHD in children, with an evocative story about a child with enlarged tonsils changing dramatically in ability to concentrate with a tonsillectomy.

    As you well know, ‘ADHD’ is just the tip of the iceberg, and reductionistic, simplistic thinking simply doesn’t cover the majority of presentations.

    You are so correct about the observation that medicine is indeed caught up with the one trick pony in the complexity of brain function and ADHD. Everyone seem bent on simply staying with description, and even after good evidence for >20 years, avoiding the interesting findings with brain function. So many are treating appearances and missing brain function, basic medical process, and neurophysiology.

    – Also wanted to further compliment you on your thoughtful. encouraging review of the Bremner’s Brain Imaging Handbook over at Amazon – it’s one that I haven’t seen and will look forward to hooking up with Dr Bremner – it appears we are much on the same path – I look forward to that meeting.

    BTW, and FYI – will be interviewing Dr Russell Jaffe next week on CorePsych Radio. Russ is an MD, PhD and a molecular cellular physiologist… who fully understands ADHD brain function, neuroimmunity, and how to specifically measure for contributory antigens.

    Thanks,
    Chuck

  6. I think only Dr. Gregory House (http://www.fox.com/house/) takes into consideration the constellation of factors that may be causing a particular. Many real life doctors are way too busy probe into the depths of a patient’s life to find out what really makes them tick.

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