Brain injury recovery through drugs that lower cholesterol?

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Patients with brain injuries are surviving their condition with the help of 'statins' which lower cholesterol, according to findings in the US.

Compared with people not using cholesterol-lowering drugs, older patients with a serious head injury taking statin medication were found to be 76% more likely to survive and 13% more likely to regain function after a year.

Brain Injury Research

As reported in the October 2011 Journal of Trauma, patients included in the study were taking cholesterol-lowering drugs before they suffered head injuries.

Researchers, already aware that mice with brain injury and on statins were able to recover, reviewed information from 69 US hospitals. Due to the greater likelihood that the elderly would be taking cholesterol-lowering medication, the study investigators looked specifically at patients over 65.

They tested 523 patients with moderate-to-severe brain injury, of whom 22% were taking statins when they were injured. Patients with brain trauma who were taking cholesterol-lowering drugs stood a 76% better chance of surviving – significantly better than for patients who took statins for heart disease.

Epidemiologist and study leader Dr Eric B. Schneider does not think the lowering of cholesterol necessarily helps the brain recover in those who have been taking statins. "We think there are other, less well-known properties of statins that are causing the benefits we seem to be seeing here," he said, adding that the findings do not mean statins should be used to treat brain trauma due to the possibility of severe side effects, including muscle injury.

Other studies have linked the anti-inflammatory effect of statins to better survival after stroke and from other types of trauma.

Health officials have also suggested supporting studies for the use of statins during flu pandemics to prevent deaths, due to the effect of this medication on the immune system, low cost and wide availability.

Natalie Rodgers of Simpson Millar LLP welcomed the news that researchers are planning further trials with cholesterol-lowering drugs. "Clearly these are early days, but if it's determined that giving statins to patients with head trauma as soon as possible after injury has a beneficial effect, this could at last lead to the development of a generic drug treatment for brain injury."

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