According to a study, taking statins can reduce your chances of dying from Covid by up to 12 percent.
A series of studies have suggested that the cholesterol-lowering pills could help fight the virus since the start of the pandemic.
Now more scientists have come in their favor, saying that the cheap drugs can act as a prophylactic against Covid.
Independent experts say the study provides “supportive evidence” that statins may help infected patients, but say there’s no smoking gun yet.
Swedish researchers conducted the largest analysis of statins and their anti-covid potential, tracking the anonymized health data of 1 million people.
A new study has added to growing body of research suggesting 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 medicines that can help lower the level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood.
Having high LDL cholesterol is potentially dangerous, as it can lead to 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:
- you have been diagnosed with a form of cardiovascular disease
- your personal and family medical history suggests that you are likely to develop cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years and lifestyle measures have not reduced this risk
Research has suggested that about one in 50 people who take statins for five years will avoid a serious event, such as a heart attack or stroke.
There are 5 types of prescription statin available in the UK:
- atorvastatin (Lipitor)
- fluvastatin (Lescol)
- pravastatin (Lipostat)
- rosuvastatin (Crestor)
- simvastatin (Zocor)
However, the drug is not undisputed.
Some people argue that the side effects of statins, including headaches, muscle aches and nausea, and statins can 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 drugs in the UK and around 7.5 million Britons are currently prescribed them. About 40 million people in the US also take them, figures suggest.
The pills reduce ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol, which doctors say can lead to hardening and narrowing of the arteries – a cause of heart attacks and strokes.
But they have been viewed as controversial in the past, with some criticizing them for being prescribed as a preventative drug and others saying some of the drug’s side effects are not worth the benefits.
Karolinska Institutet experts behind the new study believe the effects of statins on Covid may be related to how they work.
Statins that lower LDL cholesterol levels may help Covid patients because LDL itself promotes inflammation, potentially making patients more likely to survive the virus’s inflammatory symptoms.
Researchers used medical records of 963,876 Swedish people over 45 collected between March and November last year. This included the cause of death, such as from Covid, and whether they had been given statins.
Of the participants, 169,642 were found to be taking statins, nearly 17 percent of the total.
By the end of the study, 2,545 people had died from Covid, 765 of the statin users and 1,780 of the non-statin users.
Analysis suggested that statins had a moderate impact on the risk of death from Covid, a 12 percent reduction.
Rita Bergqvist, one of the researchers, said this did not differ significantly between different data groups, such as gender.
“Our results suggest that statin treatment may have a moderate prophylactic effect on Covid mortality,” she said.
Fellow study author Viktor Ahlqvist said the study results at the very least suggested there could be no harm in continuing to take statins during the pandemic.
The authors highlighted some limitations in their study, which was published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
One was that they failed to take into account health risk factors such as obesity or smoking, which may skew the results.
Another limitation involved statin use, with researchers unable to confirm the exact dosage or brand of the statin medication people were taking.
Commenting on the study, Tim Chico, a professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sheffield, said it provided some clues to the interaction between statin and Covid.
“This study does not prove that statins reduce death in Covid, but it does provide some supportive evidence,” he said.
He echoed the authors’ statement that a randomized controlled trial was needed to prove whether statins actually reduced death rates from the virus.
Professor Chico warned against jumping to conclusions about statins, pointing to previous examples of drugs believed to help fight the virus, but were later found to be incorrect.
“There is far too much speculation and premature confidence about which drugs are useful for Covid (such as hydroxychloroquine). It’s important to learn from this and to be measured appropriately 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 lower the risk of death from the virus are to maintain social distancing, wash hands, wear masks and vaccinate.
For those seriously ill with the virus, Professor Chico said there are already drugs with good evidence of improved outcomes, such as the steroid dexamethasone.
The Swedish study is the latest in a series to explore statins as a possible help against Covid infection.
Earlier this year, researchers in San Diego found that patients on a statin (alone or in combination with antihypertensive medications) had a 41 percent lower risk of death when hospitalized from Covid.
Another study published last year, this time by Yale School of Public Health, found that people hospitalized with Covid who started taking statins while in the early stages of the virus increased their risk of death. fell by 43 percent.
WHY ARE STATINS CONTROVERSIAL?
Up to six million adults in the UK are currently taking statins to lower their cholesterol levels and thereby reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
But many doctors and patients are concerned about their long-term damage, and they have been linked to diabetes, muscle pain and memory loss.
Scores are uncomfortable with what they describe as the “overmedicalization” of middle age, with statins being distributed “just in case” patients develop heart problems later in life.
Supporters, on the other hand, including the health watchdog Nice, say the pills should be prescribed more widely to prevent thousands of premature deaths.
They have been proven to help people who have had heart problems in the past.
But experts say the thresholds may be too high, meaning the benefits outweigh the side effects for many people.
Commonly reported side effects include headaches, muscle aches, and nausea, and statins can also increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hepatitis, pancreatitis, and vision problems or memory loss.