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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Cholesterol Drugs May Help Lungs

Study Shows Statin Use Slows Age-Related Loss of Lung Power
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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 study.

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.

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