Lowering your cholesterol to prevent a heart attack might also dull your edge mentally, a study suggests.
The study raised the possibility that cholesterol-lowering drugs slightly reduce dexterity and attention.
Cholesterol-lowering drugs have become mainstays over the past five years after several studies showed they significantly reduce the risk of dying from heart attacks. An estimated 4 million Americans now take the most popular of these medicines, a class of drugs known as statins.
While the drugs save lives, some doctors have wondered whether these have subtle effects on people’s mental and physical performance. Some studies have found that those who lower their cholesterol seem more likely to die in tragedies such as car accidents and suicides, while other research has found no link.
Researchers say their new study, presented Monday at a meeting of the American Heart Association, is the first to give psychological tests to people taking cholesterol-lowering drugs in an attempt to sort this out.
They emphasized that while their discovery of small decreases in ability are worthy of further study, people should not stop taking their drugs.
Even if the medicines truly do impair performance - and this is not yet proven beyond doubt - their benefits on the heart are still likely to outweigh any possible risks.
“We don’t know if this affects people in the way they conduct their lives,” said Dr. Matthew F. Muldoon of the University of Pittsburgh, who led the study.
However, even though people might not notice the difference during their daily routine, a slight decrease in alertness or coordination could be hazardous at times when people need all their abilities, such as when driving, Muldoon said.