The study, led by Dr. Joel Schwartz, Ph.D., professor of environmental epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, suggests that statins, which help in lowering cholesterol and fighting dementia, have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which could be the reason for achieving the reducing effect.
"The link between lung function and mortality and the reduced levels of lung function in the elderly indicates the importance of a possibility of reducing the rate of decline," he added.
In the study, 803 subjects were examined who had their lung function measured at least twice between January 1995 and June 2005.
Also they were given questionnaires on pulmonary disorders, smoking and medication usage.
In the analysis, the researchers found that subjects taking statins experienced a markedly slower annual decline in lung function.
In FEV1, statin users lost on average 10.9 ml, whereas nonusers lost an average of 23.9 ml each year—more than twice that of the statin group.
Likewise, in FVC statin users lost an average of 14 ml a year, whereas nonusers lost an average of 36.2 ml.
In order to determine whether smoking status modified the effect the researchers divided the subjects into four smoking groups: never-smokers, long-ago quitters, recent quitters and current smokers.
After examining subjects on the basis of the divided groups, the researchers noted that the size of the effect varied a bit with smoking status.
"Within each smoking group, those not taking statins were estimated to experience faster declines in FEV1 and FVC than those taking statins," Schwartz said.
"Our results suggest (weakly) that long-term quitters and recent quitters may be able to benefit more from statin use than other groups," he added.
The findings suggest that statins have the ability to reduce inflammation and smoking-induced injury in the lung, and also the capacity to reduce serum levels of C-reactive protein, which relates to systemic inflammation, and to protect against oxidative damage.
The study is published in the Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine