Slowing the damage caused to lungs by smoking may be another of the effects of statin drugs which are used by millions of people to lower cholesterol levels. Statins cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and now a study shows that lung function loss in smokers and ex-smokers is reduced by these drugs.
The research was conducted by a team led by Dr.Walid Younis of the University of Oklahoma Medical Center who said that the statins were the first drugs to have this effect. This could be used in the future to save millions from a serious illness which eventually leads to death. The findings were announced at a meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians.
182 smokers and 303 former smokers in their mid sixties were studied during this research. Other than 67 who had normal lung function, the rest had some form of lung disease. 238 of them were on statins.
Lung functon tests over a period of 2.7 years revealed that breathing capacity decreased more in those who did not take statin drugs than in those who took them. Breathing capacity is measured in terms of the amount of air a person can expel in 1 second(FEV1).
It was also determined that the protective effect of statins reduced the number of hospital visits and emergency treatments in those who had obstructive lung disease. Dr. Younis said that these effects were not related to the cholesterol lowering properties and that statins probably cleared inflammation in the airways.
However further studies are required to corroborate the findings. Dr. Younis also stressed the need for smokers to give up their habit, since statins have no effect on lung cancer which is the most common smoking related killer.
A second study was reported by Dr.Gautham Ravipati of New York Medical College, which showed that statins also helped in cardiovascular disease by keeping the carotid artery clear.
The researchers studied 449 people with one or both carotid ateries severly narrowed. 298 were given statins and the follow up was done over 26 months.
Only 15% of those on statins had cardiac trouble or died compared to 68% of those not given statins and followed up over 21 months .The findings reveal a high degree of underuse of statins in people at risk of strokes and even in those with high cholesterol.
Dr. Ravipati concluded that statins should be used much more, even in people whose cholesterol is considered normal, but are at risk of stroke.