Some patients with dry Age-Related Macular Degeneration (ARMD) have vision improvements after taking high doses a statin. The common cholesterol-lowering drug is called Atorvastatin. It is the statin drug used in a phase I/II clinical trial at Massachusetts Eye and Ear at Harvard Medical School and the University of Crete. A higher-than-normal dose of the drug caused lipid deposits behind the retina to dissolve in some patients.
Statin drugs are FDA approved for controlling blood cholesterol levels. The study used 80mg of atorvastatin, which is higher than the normal dose. The “dry” form of AMD is much more common than the “wet” form. However, the dry form has limited effective medical treatments. Therefore, this study could represent a treatment using a well-known class of medications.
Macular Degeneration – Statin Link
The study strengthens the links between dry ARMD, lipids and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). In AMD soft, fatty drusen build up on the outer retina. This is similar to the build-up of fats inside blood vessels in heart disease.
Macular Degeneration mostly affects senior citizens. Frequently, statin drugs control cholesterol in middle and older ages. Prior studies found no link between users of these drugs at standard doses and the incidence of ARMD. So the researchers hypothesized that a larger dose might have an effect, and this appears to be the case.
Side-effects of statin drugs include muscle pain, and more rarely, liver damage, increased blood sugar levels and memory loss. No one should change their medication dosage without a doctor’s approval. As of May 2016, Atorvastatin has not been FDA approved for treating wet Macular Degeneration and would be considered an “off-label” use.
Study: “Regression of Some High-risk Features of Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) in Patients Receiving Intensive Statin Treatment” by Demetrios G. Vavvas et. al. March 2016. Volume 5, Pages 198–203. EBio Medicine. DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.01.033
Editor’s Note: Note that statin drugs have been linked to cataract development. A study involving over 45,000 people which compared statin users to non-statin users found that people who take statins have a 9% to 27% increased risk of developing cataracts. Be sure to discuss this with your doctor before starting statins. In addition, macular degeneration is often manageable with diet, lifestyle amendments and nutrient supplementation.