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Study: Cholesterol Drugs May Worsen Asthma

Experts Say the Findings Contradict Some Earlier Studies on the Effects of Statin Drugs

Comparing Studies

The findings echo a previous study that looked at the medical records of 759 asthma patients treated at the same clinic in Rochester, N.Y. In that study, 24 patients who were starting statins saw significant drops in lung function, needed more medication, had more nighttime asthma problems, and were seen in the office more frequently compared to 26 patients who were not taking those medications.

Larger studies on the effects of statins in asthma have been contradictory, however, with some showing that statins offer modest benefits to breathing while others have found no net benefit or harm from the medications.

"There are many studies showing the opposite of what I'm saying," says researcher Safa M. Nsouli, MD, an allergist who is director of the Danville Asthma and Allergy Clinic, in Danville, Calif.

Nsouli says he became interested in the question after he noticed that many of his asthma patients who started statin therapy saw their breathing problems escalate.

He says that statins may aggravate asthma because they create an imbalance in immune system cells called helper T cells. Helper T cells fight infection by cranking out chemicals that activate and direct other immune cells to go after invaders.

Statins work, in part, by lowering levels of one kind of helper T cell. To compensate, Nsouli says, the body makes more of a second kind of helper T cell. Those cells are particularly bad for people with asthma triggered by allergy (allergic asthma) because they increase inflammation in the airways.

Advice to People With Asthma

Nsouli acknowledges that his study is small and says it's not a reason for anyone to stop taking a prescribed statin.

"The goal of my study is to make aware the patients who have allergies and asthma to know that being on statins, this might imbalance their immune system and might ... adversely affect their asthma," he tells WebMD. "Therefore they have to be medicated more carefully and more aggressively by their allergy and asthma specialist, rather than forgoing statins."

Other experts agree that the findings are interesting and could be important if they are confirmed in larger studies.

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