Statins have been hailed as a wonder drug; the cholesterol-lowering drugs have been prescribed to tens of millions of people since their approval in the late 1980s to prevent heart attack and stroke.
But the drugs may yet have additional benefits, some research has hinted, including mental health.
Scientists from the University of Oxford found the influence of statins on emotional bias, a marker for the risk of depression.
The research is published in Biological Psychiatry and was conducted by Amy Gillespie et al.
In the study, the team tested Over 2,000 participants in the UK about their current psychiatric symptoms, medications, and other lifestyle factors during the pandemic.
They also performed cognitive tasks meant to measure memory, reward, and emotion processing, which are linked to depression vulnerability.
One task required participants to identify the emotional expressions of faces, which displayed varying degrees of fear, happiness, sadness, disgust, anger, or fear.
The team found that people taking statins were less likely to recognize fearful or angry faces and more likely to report them as positive, indicating they had reduced negative emotional bias.
This was not seen with other medications, such as blood pressure medications.
Previous research found that reducing negative emotional bias can be important for the treatment of depression.
These findings are important as they provide evidence that statins may provide protection against depression.
Of particular note, we saw these results during the high-stress context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The findings also provide the first potential psychological explanation of statins’ mental health benefits.
It remains unclear exactly how statins could protect against mental illness, but one possibility is that they may work through anti-inflammatory mechanisms, which have also been implicated in depression.
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