Drugs currently used to lower cholesterol could bring relief to lung disease patients, a study has shown.
Statins are commonly prescribed for people at risk of heart attack because of their cholesterol-reducing properties, but scientists are increasingly finding they also have anti-inflammatory effects.
The latest study underlined their therapeutic potential in the treatment of patients with the inflammatory lung condition bronchiectasis. Research by Edinburgh University found that statins helped alleviate the chronic coughing associated with the disease.
“These are encouraging findings”
Bronchiectasis, which affects around one in 1,000 adults in the UK, leaves patients with symptoms including chronic coughing, excessive phlegm and repeated chest infections.
Its cause is not known but it has been linked to serious lung infections in childhood, such as whooping cough or pneumonia, which damage the airways.
The Edinburgh study team found that a daily high dose of statins over a six month period led to a significant improvement in coughing symptoms for 12 out of the 30 patients treated in the study.
They could tolerate gentle exercise better and walk further than they could before treatment.
Six patients stopped taking the statins before the end of the study because of side effects such as headaches. Researchers said there were no serious side effects from the treatment however.
Dr Pallavi Mandal, a clinical research fellow who led the study, said: “There are few effective treatments for bronchiectasis so these are encouraging findings. Larger studies are now needed to find out whether statins could be useful as a long-term treatment option for patients with this disease.”
The Edinburgh study is published today in the journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine.
It comes after a leading medical academic accused statin critics of misleading the public.
Professor Sir Rory Collins criticised two articles published in the BMJ, which claimed statins caused harmful side effects and did not reduce mortality. The articles in question were by John Abramson, from Harvard medical school, and UK cardiologist Aseem Malhotra.
In an article in The Guardian, Professor Collins said that critics of statins were doing ”a serious disservice to British and international medicine”.
He claimed the uncertainty over the drug was more serious than when Andrew Wakefield wrote his infamous paper linking the MMR vaccine to autism.
- Read the Edinburgh study paper in Lancet Respiratory Medicine