Astra's Crestor shows preventive effect in elderly

* Over 70s see 39 pct risk reduction in trial

* New analysis may widen drug use in elderly

BARCELONA, Aug 31 (Reuters) - AstraZeneca's AZN.L anti-cholesterol drug Crestor cuts the risk of heart attacks, strokes, artery-clearing procedures and death in apparently healthy elderly patients, as well as those who are middle-aged.

A new analysis of the so-called Jupiter study, released on Monday at the European Society of Cardiology congress, showed a subset of 5,695 patients aged 70 years or older had a 39 percent reduced risk if they took the drug rather than a placebo.

That compares with a 44 percent reduction in major cardiovascular events for the 17,802-patient trial as whole.

Jupiter impressed many doctors when it was first presented last November because it was the first study to show patients with low cholesterol but elevated levels of a protein linked to heart disease could benefit from taking a cholesterol fighter.

The discovery may widen use of the popular cholesterol medicines known as statins to patients previously considered at low risk of heart disease. It also puts C-reactive protein -- an indication of arterial inflammation -- in the spotlight.

C-reactive protein levels are not routinely measured at present, but some experts predict testing could become common in future.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler; editing by John Stonestreet