Doctors prescribe statins to lower a patient's blood cholesterol level and reduce risks for heart attack but it appears that using the drug regularly can speed up the aging process, which could lead to decline in physical and mental health.

Researchers of a new study have found that the heart disease drug can have a negative effect on the body's stem cells, which repair damages and provide protection from memory loss as well as from joint and muscle pains.

Study author Reza Izadpanah, from Tulane University in New Orleans, said that their study suggests that the drug possibly has general undesirable impacts on the body, which include joint problems, nerve problems and muscle pain.

For the research, which was reported in the American Journal of Physiology on July 29, Izadpanah and colleagues treated stem cells with statins in the lab. After several weeks, they found that treatment with the drug had dramatic effect.

The researchers discovered that the drug prevented the stem cells from reproducing and replicating the body's cells to repair damage.

"Statins impair the osteogenic and chondrogenic differentiation potential of Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs), increase cell senescence and apoptosis," the researchers wrote in their study. "Statins also impaired the expression of DNA repair genes including XRCC4, XRCC6, and Apex1."

Izadpanah and his colleagues said that given the unwanted effects of the drug, people should be completely informed of the risks prior to starting with the treatment.

The researchers said that statin therapy can benefit those suffering from atherosclerosis but given the drug's effects on stem cells, it may not be appropriate for statins to be used as a preventive treatment by those who do not yet have cardiovascular disease.

The study reignited the debate on the unwanted side effects of statins, which some doctors believe to have been played down.

One expert in the field said that the result of the study adds credence to the long suspected side effects of statin that mimic the aging process.

"Statins just make many patients feel years older," said Dr. Malcolm Kendrick, a physician with expertise in heart health and statins. "I observe patients on statins slowing down. Some are not affected, for some it is a relatively subtle process, but for many it is a serious side effect and one which disturbingly helps us confirm what we have long suspected." 

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