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June, 26, 2016

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Study ties use of statins with decreased risk of depression

People with heart disease who take cholesterol-lowering statins, among the most widely used medications around the world, may have a lower risk of depression than those who don't take the drugs, according to a U.S. study of nearly a thousand people.

It's still not clear whether the medications themselves have anything to do with the difference in mood among users, said Christian Otte, at the Charite University Medical Center in Berlin, who led the study.

But the results do support the hypothesis that clogged-up blood vessels in the brain could play a role in depression.

"It is possible that statins exert beneficial effects on depressive symptoms through protective effects on cerebrovascular processes," Otte told Reuters Health by email.

Between a quarter of U.S. adults over 45 took stations between 2005 and 2008, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

To find out if the medications could have an effect on depression, Otte's group, which published its findings in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, tracked 965 people in California for six years. All of the participants had suffered a heart attack or had other signs of heart disease.

At the start of the study, 65 percent of them were taking a statin.

Based on questionnaires about their mental health, 17 percent of statin users screened positive for depression at the beginning of the study compared to 24 percent of people not on the drugs.

Among those who had no mood problems initially, 18 percent of statin users and 28 percent of nonusers became depressed at some point over the course of the study.

"I'm not surprized at these findings," said Charles Blatt of the Lown Cardiovascular Center in Brookline, Massachusetts, who was not involved in the new study but found a similar link between statin use and lower rates of depression in a smaller 2003 study.

"It may point to the fact that this might not be an epiphenomenon, but biologically relevant," he added, referring to a secondary phenomenon accompanying another phenomenon, and caused by it.

But not everyone agreed.

Susan Jick, a professor at Boston University School of Public Health, who wasn't part of the study, said the link was far from clear.

She said that the researchers didn't track the medicine people took over time, meaning they couldn't tell who stopped or began taking statins. She added that statin users also had a lower rate of depression to begin with, and were less likely to be poor, have a history of depression or smoke.

"All of these things alone could explain the result," she told Reuters health by email.

Otte, who sits on the speakers board of several pharmaceutical companies, countered that his team had ruled out several likely explanations.

Blatt said it's possible statins may also influence depression indirectly.

"We live in such a cholesterol-phobic nation, and if you have something that lowers your cholesterol, you feel better," he said.

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