Taking statins can reduce your chances of dying from Covid by up to 12 percent, according to a study.
Studies have suggested that cholesterol-lowering pills may help fight the virus since the pandemic began.
Now, several researchers have come down in their favor, saying that the cheap drugs can act as a Covid prophylactic.
Independent experts say the study provides ‘supportive clues’ that statins can help infected patients, but say there is no smoking gun yet.
Swedish researchers conducted the largest analysis of statins and their anti-Covid potential and tracked the anonymized health data for 1 million people.
A new study has added the growing research group that suggests that the commonly prescribed cholesterol drug statins may help reduce people’s chances of dying from Covid
What are statins?
Statins are a group of drugs that can help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood.
Having a high level of LDL cholesterol is potentially dangerous as it can lead to a hardening and narrowing of the arteries a key factor in cardiovascular disease, the biggest killer in the UK.
A doctor may recommend taking statins if either:
- you have been diagnosed with some form of cardiovascular disease
- Your personal and family medical history suggests that you are likely to develop cardiovascular disease at some point over the next 10 years, and lifestyle measures have not reduced this risk.
Research has suggested that about one in five people who take statins for five years will avoid a serious incident, e.g. A heart attack or stroke.
There are 5 types of statin on prescription in the UK:
- atorvastatin (Lipitor)
- fluvastatin (Lescol)
- pravastatin (lipostat)
- rosuvastatin (Crestor)
- simvastatin (Zocor)
However, the medicine is not without controversy.
Some people argue that the side effects of statins, which may include headaches, muscle aches and nausea, and statins may also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hepatitis, pancreatitis and vision problems or memory loss are not worth the potential benefits.
Statins are one of the most commonly prescribed medicines in the UK with around 7.5 million Britons currently prescribing them. About 40 million people in the United States take them, too, figures suggest.
The pills cut ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, which doctors say can lead to a hardening and narrowing of the arteries – a cause of heart attacks and strokes.
However, they have previously been considered controversial, with some criticizing them prescribed as preventative medicine and others saying that some side effects of the drug are not worth the benefits.
Karolinska Institutet experts behind the new study believe that the effects of the statin on Covid may be due to how they work.
Statins that reduce LDL cholesterol levels may help Covid patients because LDL in itself promotes inflammation, thereby possibly making patients more likely to survive the inflammatory symptoms of the virus.
Researchers used medical data from 963,876 Swedish people over 45 collected between March and November last year. This included cause of death, e.g. From Covid, and if they had been prescribed statins.
Of the participants, it turned out that 169,642 took statins, almost 17 percent of the total.
At the end of the study, 2,545 people had died from Covid, 765 from statin users and 1,780 from non-statin users.
Analysis suggested that statins had a moderate effect on risk of death due to Covid, a 12 percent reduction.
Rita Bergqvist, one of the researchers, said that this did not vary significantly across different data groups, e.g. Sex.
‘Our results suggest that statin therapy may have a moderate prophylactic effect on covid mortality,’ she said.
Co-research author Viktor Ahlqvist said at least that the study results suggested that there was no harm in continuing to use statins during the pandemic.
The authors highlighted a number of limitations in their study, which was published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
One was that they were unable to account for health risk factors such as obesity or smoking, which may skew the results.
Another limitation concerned statin use with researchers who were unable to confirm the exact dose or brand of statin medication that people were using.
In response to the study, University of Sheffield professor of cardiovascular medicine Tim Chico said it provided some clues to the interaction between statin and Covid.
‘This study does not show that statins reduce deaths in Covid, but provide some supportive clues,’ he said.
He reiterated the authors’ statement that a randomized controlled trial was needed to prove whether statins actually reduced the mortality of the virus.
Professor Chico warned against jumping to conclusions about statins and pointed to previous examples of drugs believed to help against the virus, which then turned out to be wrong.
‘There has been far too much speculation and premature confidence as to which drugs are useful for Covid (such as hydroxychloroquine). It is important to learn from this and to be appropriately measured in how we describe these results, ‘he said.
‘These results in no way justify the use of statins to treat Covid.’
He added that the best ways to reduce the risk of death due to the virus continued to be maintaining social distance, washing hands, wearing masks and vaccination.
For those who are seriously ill with the virus, Professor Chico said there are already drugs with good evidence of improved results, such as steroid dexamethasone.
The Swedish study is the latest in a string of studies to investigate statins as a potential aid against Covid infection.
Earlier this year, researchers in San Diego found that patients on any form of statin (alone or in combination with antihypertensive medication) had a 41 percent lower chance of dying when admitted to Covid Hospital.
Another study published last year, this time by the Yale School of Public Health, found that people hospitalized with Covid who started taking statins while in the early stages of the virus saw their risk of death fall by 43 percent.
WHY IS STATINS CONVERTING?
Up to six million adults in the UK are currently taking statins to lower their cholesterol levels, thereby reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
However, many doctors and patients are concerned about their long-term injuries and they have been linked to diabetes, muscle pain and memory loss.
Scores are troubled by what they describe as ‘overmedicalisation’ of middle-aged people who see statins pronounced ‘just in case’ patients have heart problems later in life.
Supporters on the other hand, including health guard Nice, say the pills should be prescribed more widely to prevent thousands of premature deaths.
It has been proven that they help people who have had heart problems in the past.
But experts say the thresholds may be too high, meaning benefits are outweighed by side effects for many people.
Commonly reported side effects include headache, muscle aches and nausea, and statins may also increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hepatitis, pancreatitis and vision problems or memory loss.