Can Cholesterol Drugs Help Treat Depression?

A popular drug used to lower cholesterol may also help to improve symptoms of depression when used as an adjunct to an antidepressant.

Shahin Akhondzadeh, PhD, of the Psychiatric Research Center at Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Iran, and colleagues, conducted a double-blind, placebo controlled trial1 of 48 patients who were already on fluoxetine (Prozac). They were then randomized to receive simvastatin (Zocor), a statin designed to lower lipid levels in the blood, or a placebo as an adjunct to fluoxetine over six weeks.

Patients were evaluated Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) at study start, followed by weeks 2, 4 and 6.

Those in the simvastatin-treated group had significantly more reductions in HDRS scores compared with the placebo group, the researchers reported in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. Earlier improvement and response rates were also significantly greater in the simvastatin group. However, remission rates were not significantly different between the two groups.

However, some studies have questioned the utility of statins in helping to treat depression. A 2013 study2 published in Expert Opinion on Pharmacotherapy suggested that statins prescribed for cholesterol reduction may actually cause depression. The reasoning? Since cholesterol plays a vital role in neuroprotection, low cholesterol may adversely impact neurotransmission, thereby increasing the risk of depression.


  1. Akhondzadeh S, et al. Simvastatin as an adjuvant therapy to fluoxetine in patients with moderate to severe major depression: A double-blind placebo-controlled trial. J Psychopharmacol. 2015; doi: 10.1177/0269881115578160.
  2. You H, et al. The relationship between statins and depression: a review of the literature. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2013;14(11):1467-1476.