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What Is the Connection between Statins and Depression?

By Debra Barnhart
Updated May 17, 2024
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A number of anecdotal reports about the impact of statins on mental health prompted researchers to look for a physiological connection between statins and depression. Statins are a class of cholesterol lowering drugs prescribed to patients with cardiovascular conditions. A 2010 laboratory study may have found a possible link between statins and depression, though the side effects of a drug should always be considered along with its value.

In clinical trials side effects of statins appear to be relatively rare, with muscle aches being one of the most common. There have been a number of anecdotal reports, however, about statins and depression. According to researchers, these occurrences were recounted not only by the patients themselves but also by family members, caregivers, co-workers and friends, thus lending some credence to the claims.

A 2010 laboratory experiment seems to indicate that while low cholesterol is generally considered a sign of good cardiovascular health, it might not be such a good thing for the brain. Researchers found that serotonin cell receptors exposed to a statin showed reduced function. Serotonin impacts mood and behavior. Once cholesterol was added to the cells, the receptors behaved normally.

While it may be true that statins can affect the function of serotonin cell receptors, the correlation between lowered cholesterol levels and depression is not as clear cut. Some research from the 1990s showed a link between low cholesterol levels and severe depression, though studies conducted after that have not been able to replicate the findings and corroborate the association. Some studies in Europe, however, seem to indicate that men who murder as well as people who attempt to commit suicide have lower than average levels of cholesterol.

Hostility, aggression, personality changes and memory loss were other conditions that were cited by persons taking statins. Increased substance abuse was mentioned as well. It is important to note that these reports are anecdotal, which indicates that more research likely needs to be conducted on the impact of statins and depression. Some experts feel that even if statins can exacerbate or cause depression, occurrences are rare.

The side effects of any drug should be weighed against the positive benefits. Drugs classified as statins include atorvastatin, simvastatin and lovastatin. They are prescribed to people with cardiovascular conditions to reduce the build-up of plaque in the walls of blood vessels. Such build-ups can cause clots that may lead to a heart attack or stroke.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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