Cholesterol therapy slows lung function decline

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Treatment with statins, the widely prescribed class of cholesterol-lowering drugs, appears to slow the age-related decline in lung function in elderly individuals, even among those who smoke, according to a report in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Statins, which include drugs such as Lipitor, Crestor and Zocor, are known to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which may be responsible for their beneficial effects on the lung, Dr. Joel Schwartz of Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and colleagues suggest.

The researchers examined the association between statin use and lung function decline in 803 elderly men, participating in a Veterans Administration study on aging. The subjects had their lung function measured two to four times between 1995 and 2005. Data on smoking and statin use were also collected at each visit.

The researchers’ analysis revealed that statin users experienced a much slower annual decline in lung function. For example, the estimated decline in forced expiratory volume in 1 second was more than twice as great in men who did not use statins compared with men who did use statins. The results were similar for annual decline using other measures of lung function as well.

Furthermore, when the men were grouped by smoking status -- never-smokers, long-time quitters, recent quitters and current smokers -- “the effect of statins was always estimated to be beneficial, but the size of the improvement in the decline rate varied,” Schwartz and colleagues report.

When the researchers analyzed the men according to smoking status, it appeared that long-time and recent quitters experienced greater benefits from statins compared with current smokers and those who never smoked.

However, “additional studies including more current smokers would be needed to confirm that finding,” Schwartz’s group noted.

“This research,” they conclude, “adds to the growing body of knowledge indicating the positive effects of statin use beyond its cholesterol-lowering properties.”

SOURCE: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, October 2007.