Cholesterol Drugs May Help Lungs
Study Shows Statin Use Slows Age-Related Loss of Lung Power
Oct. 12, 2007 -- Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs may slow age-related loss
of lung power -- even in smokers.
The finding comes from an analysis of data on more than 800 men whose lung
function was tested over a 10-year period. The men's average age was about 70
at the start of the study. Some of the men were taking statins to help them
control high cholesterol.
"We found statins substantially reduce the rate of decline in lung
function," study researcher Joel Schwartz, PhD, professor of environmental
epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, tells WebMD.
Good lung function predicts long life span, Schwartz says. But don't reach
for that pill bottle just yet. While number-crunching studies like this one are
great for generating theories, they don't prove anything.
"Before you start taking a medication, there should be randomized
clinical trials. Nobody should do anything before then," Schwartz says.
"But it is possible that randomized trials will show that statins will be
good for lung function."
University of Glasgow researcher Neil C. Thompson, MD, last year published a
scholarly article promoting the potential role statin drugs might play in the
treatment of respiratory diseases. Thompson was not involved in the Schwartz
The study "makes the interesting observation that statins seem to reduce
the rate of decline in lung function," Thompson tells WebMD. "But we
need definitive research to show it is statins that are having this effect.
These findings are suggestive of a lung benefit, but not proof."
Schwartz and Thompson note that in addition to lowering cholesterol, statins
also reduce inflammation -- an immune response that can make tissues redden and
swell. Over the course of a lifetime, repeated bouts of inflammation take a
toll on the lungs.
Cigarette smoking is a major cause of lung inflammation. Lung function
decline is particularly rapid in smokers. Schwartz and colleagues found that
statin use cut this rate of lung-function decline in half for men who had quit
smoking -- even those who only recently had quit.
Statin drugs available in the U.S. are Crestor, Lescol, Lipitor, Mevacor,
Pravachol, and Zocor.
The Schwartz study appears in the Oct. 15 issue of the American Journal
of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.