March 3, 2010 (New Orleans) -- Once again, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs
have been shown to be good for more than the heart.
Already linked to a reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, multiple
sclerosis, and cancer, statins also may help people with asthma breathe easier,
In a 70-person study, the use of statins was associated with improvements in
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
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
Given that up to one-third of people with asthma also have high blood
cholesterol 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.
The new study involved 70 people, mostly women, who were prescribed either
Lipitor or Zocor, both statins.
Two months before statin therapy began, participants were using a
rescue inhaler an average of nine times per week.
This dropped to five times a week in the first and second months after
statin treatment started.
"With the statin therapy, most people also improved class," Pagovich
After a month of treatment with statins, only 14% of patients were
classified as having severe persistent asthma, down from 17% before treatment
began. Only 44% had moderate persistent asthma vs. 55% before statin treatment
A total of 42% of patients were classified as having mild asthma, compared
with 30% before statin treatment began.
"The capacity of the lung to breathe in and out also improved in the months
after statin treatment was initiated," Pagovich says.
The dose of statin didn't affect the results, she says. The researchers
didn't tease out whether one type of statin drug had more potent
asthma-fighting properties than another. Other statin drugs include Crestor,
Pravachol, Mevacor, and Lescol.