Drugs designed to lower cholesterol have the positive side effect of killing bacteria, scientists have found.
The drugs, known as statins, taken by millions of people to lower their risk of heart disease could also reduce the chances of contracting serious infections such as pneumonia.
A study conducted in the US and reported in the journal Cell Host & Microbe found the medicines activate the properties of white blood cells that kill off bacteria.
Phagocyte blood cells, which kill and ingest invaders from outside the body, became more effective after they had been exposed to statins in the lab.
The cells released “extracellular traps” - webs of DNA-based strands containing anti-microbial molecules. Bacteria are trapped by them before they have a chance to multiply and spread through the body.
Research leader professor Victor Nizet, from the University of California at San Diego, said: “We found these drugs fundamentally alter how white blood cells behave upon encountering bacteria.”
Cathy Ross, of the British Heart Foundation, said: “The results are scientifically interesting and support the fact that we know statins have extra health benefits, in addition to lowering cholesterol. For those already taking statins for heart disease, these added benefits may offer a small level of protection against bacterial infections.”