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(Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
(Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail/Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

Are statins a double-edged sword? Add to ...

Millions of people worldwide take statin drugs to reduce their cholesterol levels. But this class of medication may do more than lower your chances of a heart attack.

People taking statins are apparently less likely to suffer from depression, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. It’s possible that increasing blood flow to the brain improves mood, speculated the lead researcher, Christian Otte at the Charite University Medical Centre in Berlin.

But another announcement this week points to the potential downside of statin medications, which include big sellers such as Lipitor, Zocor and Crestor. Based on an assessment of recent research, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a warning that the drugs are associated with a slightly elevated risk of memory loss, confusion, muscle pain and changes in blood-sugar levels (which could be a harbinger of diabetes).

Reports of these side effects are relatively rare and they shouldn’t be the main reason to forgo treatment in patients with heart disease, said the FDA. A study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, in patients taking high doses of any brand of statins, there is a small risk of developing diabetes.

Health Canada has already placed similar warnings about memory loss and changes in blood-sugar levels on some statin medications. The federal agency is reviewing the research to determine if the labels of products sold in Canada need further revisions.

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