In a 70-person study, the use of statins was associated with improvements in lung function.
Patients were also less likely to use rescue inhaler medications that provide short-acting, quick relief when symptoms flare when they were on statins than when they weren't taking the drugs.
Odelya E. Pagovich, MD, of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, presented the findings at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology annual meeting.
About 21 million Americans suffer from asthma, which is caused by inflammation and swelling of the airways. The inflammation, in turn, can cause excessive mucus production and narrowing of the airways, resulting in asthma symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.
It stands to reason that statins would relieve asthma symptoms, Pagovich says. In animal and lab studies, they have been shown to reduce inflammation in the lungs.
Given that up to one-third of people with asthma also have high bloodcholesterol or other risk factors for heart disease and stroke that may require statin therapy, the idea that statins may relieve asthma symptoms "is extremely attractive and worthy of further study," says William Busse, MD, chair of the department of medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.
But no one should start taking statins in an attempt to ward off an asthma attack, he stresses.
Studies to date have had conflicting results, Busse says. Some research has linked statins to fewer emergency room visits and hospitalizations for asthma, but others have suggested that people with asthma who take statins have more attacks than those who don't take the cholesterol-lowering drugs.
"If it turns out that statins have this extra added benefit, that would be great," says Busse, lead author of the asthma guidelines that doctors follow when treating the disease.