A common heart drug that is taken by millions of people around the world could have additional benefits it was revealed today. Statins are drugs which lower the level of cholesterol in your blood. There are different types of statins, but they all work in the same way. Statins work by reducing the amount of ‘bad cholesterol’ your body makes. They block a chemical in the liver which is needed to make cholesterol by 20%. Some cholesterol is essential for your body to work well, but too much ‘bad cholesterol’ (called low-density lipoprotein or LDL) is unhealthy. If you have high levels of ‘bad cholesterol’ in your blood this can lead to fatty deposits building up in your arteries. You are then at risk of developing cardiovascular disease which includes conditions such as coronary heart disease (angina and heart attacks) and are prone to strokes.
It is known that statins reduce the levels of LDL cholesterol in the body but research has also shown that they can help with cutting the number of deaths relating to infections and respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. The study, named Ascot – Anglo Scandinavian Cardiac Outcomes Trial, took over 10,000 patients with high blood pressure and gave them either a placebo or atorvastatin. In 2003 however, the trial had to be stopped because the patients on the statins reacted so positively that it was deemed unfair to allow the patients on the placebo to be at a continued risk. In the 8 years since all the patients have been taking the statins, results have shown that there is a higher death rate for those on the placebo. There is also a 36% reduction in deaths from infection and respiratory ailments.
Professor Peter Sever, from the International Centre of Circulatory Health at Imperial College London commented, “There is emerging evidence that there are increasing benefits of statins far beyond those that we had ever imagined when they were first introduced. This opens up a whole new area of research which is very exciting as they could be of much greater benefit to the health of the nation than we realised.” His views are echoed by the honorary medical adviser for the British Lung Foundation, “The apparent impact of statins on death rates from respiratory disease is a welcome, if unexpected finding.” It is thought that more than a million prescriptions of statins are issued every week in the UK alone.