Statins May Help Curb Spread of HIV in Body
Study Shows Modest Control of Virus in Patients Taking Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs
July 27, 2005 (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) -- In the latest research to suggest
that the popular cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins are good for more
than the heart, a new study hints that the medications may help curb the spread
of HIV throughout the body.
In the study of nearly 4,000 HIV-infected people, those taking statins
tended to have lower levels of the virus in their blood compared with those not
taking the medications, says researcher Homayoon Khanlou, MD, of the AIDS
Healthcare Foundation in Sherman Oaks, Calif.
"The use of statins may improve, although modestly, control of the
virus," Khanlou tells WebMD. Even a little improvement may be noteworthy
given the large number of HIV-infected people who are taking AIDS medications
called protease inhibitors, he says.
The drugs have greatly improved HIV treatment, but they can cause levels of
cholesterol and triglycerides to skyrocket -- leading doctors to prescribe
Statins Linked to Lower HIV Levels
For the study, the researchers first looked at HIV control in 2,282
HIV-infected people who were taking a protease inhibitor, 315 of whom were also
taking a statin for at least 12 months.
The study showed that 84% of those taking statins had low levels of HIV in
their blood, compared with 67% of those not on statins.
Then the researchers looked at 1,487 HIV-infected people who were taking
some type of AIDS medication other than a protease inhibitor; 163 of these
people were also on a statin.
In this group, 91% of those on statins had low HIV levels vs. 79% of those
not on statins. People in the study were taking one of three statins --
Lipitor, Pravachol, or Crestor.
The researchers did not look at whether the type or dose of statins affected
the results, although they hope to do so in the future.
Also, the information about statins is based on medical records, so it's not
possible to say whether the people who were given the drugs actually took them
Provocative but More Info Needed
It makes sense that statins could have an anti-HIV effect, Khanlou says, as
laboratory studies suggest they may block an enzyme critical for HIV
replication and spread.
Further study is warranted, agree researchers who heard about the results at
a meeting of the International AIDS Society.
William F. Owen Jr., MD, an AIDS specialist at California Pacific Medical
Center in San Francisco, tells WebMD that while preliminary, "the findings
are very provocative."
In the meantime, researchers warn that HIV-infected people shouldn't start
taking statins unless prescribed by their doctors for high cholesterol. Side
effects of statins include gas, constipation, and a rare but potentially
serious form of muscle damage.