A new cholesterol-busting pill without the potentially dangerous side effects of statins could become reality thanks to a major breakthrough by British scientists.
Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have found that cholesterol levels are suppressed by the body's immune system as part of the process that fights off viral infections, the Daily Express reported.
"We have identified the immune hormone that does this. Statins are effective but crude drugs," Professor Peter Ghazal, leader of the research team, said.
"This discovery gives the ability to be a little more refined and by being a lot more subtle in how to control the production of cholesterol you can prevent a lot of these adverse side-effects," he noted.
Professor Ghazal hopes drugs to mimic the hormone that are just as effective as statins without their side effects may be an estimated five years away.
Statins have been hailed as a wonder drug for reducing the harmful blood fat that furs up arteries triggering tens of thousands of heart attacks and strokes that kill 150,000 people every year in Britain.
But there is evidence that some of the seven million people who take the daily heart pills can suffer side effects ranging from muscle aches and tummy upsets to a rare but serious lung disorder, as well as diabetes.
And for about one in four people statins do not reduce their cholesterol to a safe level because they do not work or patients cut the dose or stop taking them.
Yet experts believe the benefits of taking the tablets, that can cost as little as 4p a day, far outweigh any potential risks.
The new study is published in the journal Biochimie.