The People's Perspective on Medicine

Is Low Cholesterol Linked to Forgetfulness?

Q. Last fall my doctor prescribed atorvastatin (Lipitor), and after several months I found I was having trouble remembering names and coming up with the right word. At dinner once I said “please pass the elephant” though I wanted the bread. I told my husband I thought I’d had a stroke.

In January a friend came to visit. She was worried about her memory and couldn’t think of her daughter’s name on the telephone. She too was on Lipitor.

I asked my doctor to prescribe a different cholesterol medicine. Within a couple of weeks I was more mentally alert. But my friend (still on Lipitor) was in worse shape and afraid she would lose her job. Her doctor said forgetfulness could not be due to the drug. She finally stopped taking Lipitor anyway and now is much sharper.

I am concerned that some people taking Lipitor might think such a reaction was just due to getting older. Is this side effect well known?

A. Side effects such memory problems, word scrambling and mental cloudiness have been linked to statin-type cholesterol-lowering drugs for years but remain controversial. When patients taking drugs like atorvastatin, fluvastatin, lovastatin, pravastatin, rosuvastatin (Crestor) pitavastatin (Livalo) and simvastatin complain about confusion or forgetfulness many physicians chalk such concerns up to aging or anti-statin sentiment. Others maintain that if statins muck up the mental machinery it is an extremely rare side effect.

That said, the FDA recently acknowledged that people taking statins can experience problems with cognitive function: “Memory loss and confusion have been reported with statin use. These reported events were generally not serious and went away once the drug was no longer being taken.” Here is a link to the entire FDA safety Communication.

We are not as convinced as the FDA that reports of memory loss and confusion are not serious. We also are not sure that such cognitive dysfunction clears up once the drugs are stopped. We have heard from many people that the impairment can last for weeks or even months and some individuals may experience longer-term complications.

Cholesterol is often viewed as a dangerous compound, but it is an essential building block for many crucial chemicals and is also important in nerve function. Studies suggest that people with very low cholesterol may be more vulnerable to depression, so it’s not inconceivable that lowering cholesterol significantly might affect mood and mental function for some people.

To learn more about the pros and cons of statins (some people must take these drugs to avoid a serious heart event), we suggest our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health. You can also learn more about cholesterol management without statins. We think it is possible to keep your heart and your brain healthy and that you shouldn’t have to trade one for the other.

You will also find a whole chapter on heart health and cholesterol control in our book Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy. We think this book provides a wonderful opportunity for people to make informed decisions about drugs and more natural ways of dealing with common health problems.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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I, too, have been having memory issues & having a hard time with finding the correct words when speaking. I did take myself off of the simvastatin for about 4 months. Slowly my brain fog & memory improved. Sometimes I couldn’t even remember what I ate the previous day! But it got better.

After the 4 months I started having some shoulder pain that radiated up to my neck. It lasted 2 days. I was afraid that maybe I was having symptoms of a heart attack. I decide to get back on them.

Wouldn’t you know that I started the meds on a Monday & by Friday of the same week, I started forgetting things again & was having trouble with finding the right word! I am going to see my doc as soon as I can get in to try to get off these nasty, horrible pills!

After listening to the podcast with Dr. Peter Gotzsche, I realized that Big Pharma has corrupted healthcare. Doctors still insist that patients take statins even when they have side effects like memory loss, diabetes and inability to walk or function normally. I’m a nurse and most patients on statins have cataracts and diabetes. The poor patients think the doctors are all knowing gods so they don’t question the side effects. Should the patient report the side effect, the doctor will put them on a medicine which has just been approved by the FDA and cost them money they need for food. After 43 years in healthcare I’ve seen and experienced these disturbing changes and the consumer needs to be well informed. Your site gives me hope that some will read, listen and know how the wool has been pulled over our eyes so that the big drug companies make a huge profit.

My doctor put me on Crestor due to 30 point increase in Total Cholesterol number. After 8 months of being on this drug and having multiple symptoms such as loss of memory, couldn’t come up with the correct word when speaking, numbness in hands, legs and feet I decided to take myself off Crestor. Within one month of being off the drug the numbness had subsided however, it took several months before my brain function returned. I don’t think people need to wait until they do a broad study on statin drugs before taking action they need to talk to their doctor about how to get off them if they are suffering any of the above mentioned symptoms!

I have been experiencing significant memory loss and brain fog for a number of years. I am now 79 years old and in excellent health, according to my M.D. I have been taking 600 mg of red Yeast Rice, 3 times/day, since Nov. 2011. Could this also be associated with the memory loss issue, as well?

I have been taking Crestor since January and can feel myself going downhill. I can’t remember simple words, like when doing crossword when talking to someone. Very embarrassing. I never used to forget things. (before Crestor) I have cramps in my legs and feet and my neck and shoulders. My arthritis in my hands has gotten much worse.
Prior to Crestor I took Pravastatin and had a terrible itch resulting in going to dermatologist for 2 years, not realizing what the itch was from. Then switched to Lipitor and the itch was so bad I was ripping my skin apart and bleeding. I went off all my meds and all side effects went away. So they switched me to Crestor and no itching but all the rest. The doctor says “I can’t remember things either. We’re getting older”. Maybe lots of people can take them but there are many that cannot too. I think they should send them back to the drawing board and come up with something safe to control cholesterol. I wonder if they are really necessary.

I had a similar problem with Lipitor, actually thought I was having a stroke! My sister has been on a statin drug for years, and now has very low cholesterol, and memory problems.
I was unaware of what statin could do to me, until I went to my doctor to complain about very rigid neck and shoulder muscles. She took me off of statins immediately. It took nearly six months to recover.
My cholesterol is too “high” at 297, but I am not convinced the one size fits all approach is helpful for treatment. I take Niaspan but refuse to take it every night. I would like to do my own research on how the dictum that “healthy cholesterol levels” are 200 or less was arrived at.

Of April 2011 I was put on Pravastatin. A couple months later I had leg pain and my muscles were so weak and burning feet could hardly walk. I thought at first it was my RA but talking to my RA Dr. he checked me and mentioned claudication. I saw my family Dr. who made me an appt. for an ultra sound. From there it was to a heart Dr. for a stint for blockage in my left leg.
Oh how I thought no more pain. Saw my heart Dr. 2 weeks later and he asked how I was doing and I said well I can walk a little better. BUT then the pain started again. I talked to an old friend whose husband said she had gout in her big toe and hurt so bad legs and feet. I spoke with her and she asked if I took cholesterol medicine and I said yes Pravastatin. She said oh no they will kill you.
I was on the computer day and night reading about them. I made an appt. on Monday with my family Dr. who said stop them. My Dr. who had put me on them in April 2011 was moving to Ky. saw this was a new Dr. I had seen in Sept. for low sodium. He wanted to see me in 2 weeks and he then put me on COQ 10. Some days I can walk a little with my husband at the mall who had a bad stroke 3 yrs ago and of course I have to usually sit for awhile and let him walk.
I go Monday to see my family Dr. and now I read that UBIQuinol works a lot faster so will ask him about that. I enjoy your information. Thank you.

Good-day everyone, this site has given me some peace of mind as my wife was convinced I was suffering from dementia, as for my doctor I would have been better dealing with an Orangutan. He told me I was getting old, [55], and its not the statins, all I was taking at the time. After several years of these, 80mg, I was going down hill fast, ie, severe memory loss, losing control of my speech and being unable to string a sentence with the required words I wanted due to not being able to remember them, asking for a cow etc. when I actually wanted a cup of tea, or asking my wife if she wished to go on holiday to a chicken.
The final straw came when she had to travel to collect me as I could not remember who I was or any of my card numbers to settle a bill, the mgr. of the residence in question could see I was getting more and more distressed and searched my wallet to get my address and call my wife who had already read up on statins after reading a report on them in the press.
She immediately took me off them and within 2 weeks I was recovering and able to write again to a degree but have not yet fully recovered, but am in a much better state of mind. I am now on a lower dose and only take it every other day and improve continually, we have enjoyed reading this site and feel vindicated that we were correct on the assumption that the statins were causing the damage. May I add that the medical profession hand these things out like smarties but never call you in for an appraisal of there effects on patients, I was just wondering what would happen to people living alone on these with no one to observe there decline. I WAS LUCKY I HAD A LOVING AND CARING WIFE—SO ALL YOU FOLK ON THESE BEWARE OF THE SIDE EFFECTS AND REMEMBER THE DRUG COMPANIES ARE ONLY TO WILLING TO WRITE A NUMBER OF PEOPLE OFF IN THE QUEST FOR PROFITS,A LSO A LOT OF DOCTORS FIT THIS CATEGORY. Hi I am Phil`s wife, just had to insert several correct words as he is still not able to recall properly yet, but improving each month. Take care and have some-one monitor you if you take statins.

Hi Anne,
Thank you for writing to me. I was only on Atorvastatin for a very short while and had the same problems as you. But, I started taking more vitamin C and reading a lot. I have noticed that my memory is coming back. My balance and fear of falling has improved in just a very short while. I only have the use of one leg so walking has been difficult for me. It is awful for a doctor to give you a medication without telling you to watch what you eat rather than giving us a pill that changes our personality and the way we live. Thank you again.
Angel hugs, F. Hall

I’m having some memory problems also. Mainly cannot come up with the right word or term when speaking. Was on 80mg daily of simvistatin and had it cut back to 40mg daily.
I told my Dr. about the memory issue and just says its because I’m getting older. Was also diagnosed with Diabetes last year.

I stopped taking simvastin on my own Last July. I had been on it (and others) for years. I had trouble with memory and what was worse was that I was terrified of falling. I take aerobics and had trouble with my feet and legs. My legs felt like I heavy weights around my ankles. Had to think about how to put my feet down all the time. Since stopping I no longer worry about falling or putting my feet down. My cholesterol is high but I will never take another statin. Am now trying Niacin.

I can tell you that the memory loss from Simvastatin is real and one may not recover.
I only took 10mg for two years too. I have been off statins for one year and my memory is not getting any better. In fact it may be getting worse as is my back pain and pain in the bottom of my feet.
The memory problem is weird. I sometimes just can’t bring up a name or word then sometime later it will pop into my head. I have no problem with events so far.
God help us all if the FDA doesn’t ban statins. As I have read, cholesterol is not the problem anyway. It is inflammation of the arteries which causes small molecule cholesterol to stick to and becomes a blockage.

Hello. I truly enjoy this wonderful informative website, THANK YOU FOR THIS SERVICE.
I have always been very athletic, exercise, thin, eat sensible, and out of the clear blue I had Lobarpneumonia which went into both lungs. Shortly after being treated for the pneumonia, I went to get up to go to the bathroom and passed out on the floor. I was rushed to the hospital as I had Congestive Heart failure.
After 3 weeks in an induced coma, I was treated three more weeks. Then I was placed in a nursing home. HELP!!!! I was there a month. During that time I was given atrovastatin. I didn’t understand why, as my cholesterol was 197–HDL-97–trigliserides-76. But, they told me to stay on it. Friends & Family have always remarked on my memory, and I have noticed not remembering the smallest things. I have been concerned about this. In the list SIDE EFFECTS: muscle pain/tenderness/weakness/unusual tiredness/dark urine/ and abdominal pain. I saw my Cardiologist, and I have to have quite a few tests, which is frightening. But, the memory loss is mentioned no where.
Thank you for the information. I shall follow through on this.
I live way out in the country & have no friends. I am alone too much & get very depressed. I have tried so many medications for depression, but they all seem to make the depression worse. Taking the Atorvastatin has increased my depression.
This website is just wonderful. Thank you for being there for us shut-ins. I have had (17) back surgeries after an attack by a large male Cougar on our property in June 2006, and it changed my life from being active to just resting, reading & TV, and It does not help the depression at all. Plus I had a tremendous weight loss, and no matter what I do I cannot gain my weight back. Any suggestions on how to gain weight. I do not eat junk food at all.
Thank you again, F. Hall

I can tell for a fact that Simvastatin caused me MEMORY LOSS at least 2 times that I know of. I quit that statin & will never take a Statin again.
By yourself a book called– THE GREAT CHOLESTEROL CON — by Dr Malcolm Kendrick — he explains all the BS the doctors & big pharma are shoving down our throats.

First let me say to the author, I am so sorry for your troubles, and I completely understand! I too am a Statin Effects sufferer, I think based on my nearly 10 years of research into this topic, low Cholesterol may contribute to this memory issue, but more likely it is the Statin Drug itself… see Dr Graveline’s book , “Lipitor, Thief of Memory.”
His problem arose from his Dr putting him on Lipitor, which resulted in TGA (Transient Global Amnesia) My use of lipitor resulted in Neuronal Apoptosis, (Brain Cell Death) as well as a Mitochondrial DNA mutation, for which my disability is almost 10 years now. According to Dr Beatrice Golomb of the UCSD statin Effects study.

I am so happy that the stories continue to come in concerning this mind altering drug, and doctors will still not admit it is the cause. As I have written many times, my husband has permanent damage, he was on them for ten years, but I think the 80 mgs simvastin is what did him in. He was put on lipitor, with horrible, drastic effects. Now I have finally taken matters in my own hands, and they are stopped. He still has bad memory, but at least I know i have done my job.
They put him on half, but when I would put him on them, you could see the immediate change in him. I will tell the doctor when we go back and take my chances. We are on a low fat, low sugar diet, and his cholesterol has been 170, and we are working on lower, but have been told that is fine. The new numbers of under 100 are insane. I waited too long, but I did not have information, or needed to go with my husband to doctor until the last two years. So, please lets keep writing until the FDA wakes up and takes them off the market. The doctors will never stop.

I’ve had significant memory issues after using Simvastatin for several years. I’m looking for more information about how to deal with those issues and whether they will abate since I have stopped taking the drug.

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