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Cholesterol-lowering drugs may help tame certain mental disorders, study finds

A cholesterol-lowering class of drugs, called statins, has the potential to help people with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, U.K. researchers said.

Statins, such as Pfizer Inc.'s Lipitor and AstraZeneca PLC's Crestor, lower the risk of narrowing of the arteries and cardiovascular disease by reducing cholesterol levels. According to the scientists, statins may benefit patients with mental disorders by reducing levels of inflammation in the brain or by improving the body's ability to absorb antipsychotic drugs.

In the study, scientists from University College London reviewed the health records of 142,691 patients in Sweden, who had been diagnosed with serious mental illness.

The results, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, showed that there was a reduction in the rate of psychiatric hospitalization and self-harm among patients taking statins, which are available both as generics and in a brand-name form.

The chances of hospitalization and self-harm among patients with bipolar disorders taking statins dropped 14% and 24%, respectively. Among the schizophrenia patients taking statins, chances of hospitalization and self-harm fell by 25% and 32%, respectively.

The study highlighted that blood pressure or diabetes drugs also were linked to lower rates of hospitalization and self-harm among patients with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Among patients with non-affective psychosis — mental disorders not characterized by the disturbance of mood — only the blood pressure drugs were linked to lower rates of self-harm.

The study's results would have to be tested further through clinical trials before statins can be used to treat mental illnesses, the researchers noted.