Statins May Provide Protection Against Depression, Study Results Show

The medications are linked with reduced negative emotional bias, according to new research published in Biological Psychiatry.

Statins, which are typically prescribed to prevent heart attacks and strokes, may influence an individual’s emotional bias, a marker for depression risk, according to the results of a study published in Biological Psychiatry.

Investigators conducted an online observational study from April 2020 through February 2021, at the height of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, a time when global stress levels were elevated, and the incidence of psychiatric disorders spiked.

More than 2000 individuals in the United States reported information about their psychiatric symptoms, medication, and other lifestyle factors for this study. Investigators had the individuals perform cognitive tasks that were meant to measure emotion processing, memory, and reward, which are all linked to depression vulnerability.

Additionally, 1 task required individuals to identify the emotional expression of faces, which displayed varying degrees of anger, disgust, fear, happiness, or sadness.

Approximately 84% of individuals were not taking either medication. However, just 6% were taking anti-hypertension medications, 4% statins, and 5% both.

The individuals who were taking statins were less likely to recognize angry or fearful faces and more likely to report them as positive, indicating that they had reduced negative emotional bias, which is linked to depression, investigators said.

“We found that taking a statin medication was associated with significantly lower levels of negative emotional bias when interpreting facial expressions; this was not seen with other medications, such as blood pressure medications,” Amy Gillespie, PhD, at the University of Oxford, said in a statement. “Our findings are important, as they provide evidence that statins may provide protection against depression.”.

Reducing negative bias is important to treat depression, she said.

Additionally, the results were seen during the high stress context of the pandemic and were the first to provide potential psychological explanation of statins as a benefit to mental health, which could affect how individuals process emotions, Gillespie said.

It is unclear how statins could protect against mental illness, but a possibility is that they could help through anti-inflammatory mechanisms, which has also been known to affect depression, Gillespie said.

“Researchers should prioritize investigating the possible use of statins as a preventative intervention for depression,” she said. “Before use in clinical practice, it is important that future research confirms the potential psychological benefits of statins through controlled, randomized clinical trials.”

Statins are most commonly prescribed to help prevent heart attacks and stroke, but the new findings of this study raise the possibility of other positive effects on health that could be mediated by the effects of these drugs, specifically on the brain and how it promotes emotional resilience, John Krystal, MD, editor of Biological Psychiatry, said in the statement.

Statins are typically used to help lower cholesterol in individuals and have been approved since the late 1980s, according to the statement.

The study was published by Elsevier.

Reference

Statins may provide protection against depression. Science Daily. News release. May 17, 2022. Accessed May 24, 2022. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/05/220517130746.htm