updated 10/15/2003 6:04:17 PM ET 2003-10-15T22:04:17

Widely used cholesterol-lowering drugs do not appear to raise the risk of suicide, and might even reduce depression, according to researchers trying to clarify conflicting earlier studies.

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Some previous studies appeared to connect older cholesterol-lowering drugs to an increased risk of unintentional injury, aggression and suicide. Other recent research suggested no such link.

In fact, some research connected newer medications called statins, taken by millions of people, to a reduced risk of depression or dementia.

The new study, an analysis of data on 94,441 adults in the United Kingdom, included 458 diagnosed with depression and 105 who thought about, attempted or committed suicide. The findings appear in Monday’s Archives of Internal Medicine.

There was no increased risk for suicidal behavior among adults using any type of cholesterol-lowering drugs, and depression was less common among the medication users.

About 3 percent of patients on statins and 4 percent on other cholesterol-lowering drugs were depressed, compared with 11 percent of nonusers. The link was strongest among long-term statin users.

The researchers speculated that cholesterol-lowering drugs might indirectly boost psychological well-being by reducing heart-related ailments and improving people’s quality of life.

Also, patients on cholesterol-lowering drugs might be more health-conscious and take better care of themselves, “which will further reduce their risk of developing depression,” they wrote.

Co-author Susan Jick of Boston University and the Boston Collaborative Drug Surveillance Program said the size of the study and its design make the data convincing.

While the Boston program received funding from several drug companies that make cholesterol medication, Jick said industry financing played no role in the study’s design or in the interpretation of the findings.

Dr. Lynn Smaha, a spokesman for the American Heart Association, said the suggestion that statins might reduce depression is important because depression is common but underdiagnosed in heart patients.

But University of Pittsburgh researcher Dr. Matthew Muldoon said the findings do not prove statins reduce depression and are not convincing enough to erase concerns about older drugs’ effects on mental health.

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