Blocking cholesterol build-up inside arteries, statins reduce the risk of heart disease. But a clinical trial of Crestor, made by the London-based drug company AstraZeneca, suggests the benefits of statins extend beyond the heart.
"Participants randomly assigned to receive rosuvastatin [Crestor is the brand name] had a modest reduction in the incidence of pneumonia compared with participants assigned to the placebo group," wrote lead author Dr. Victor Novack of the Soroka University Medical Center. The study was published today in the journal CMAJ.
Novack and colleagues analyzed data from more than 17,800 men and women age 50 and older who had no history of heart disease or diabetes. During a follow-up period of almost two years, 214 people taking statins contracted pneumonia, compared with 257 people taking a placebo - a small but significant difference that held even when the researchers controlled for pneumonia risk factors, such as age and smoking.
"Although a number of observational studies have suggested a protective effect of statin use on the incidence of pneumonia and other infections, we are not aware of any evidence from prior randomized trials that specifically evaluated this question," according to the study.
Previous studies have found that statins have positive effects on inflammation - the hallmark feature of pneumonia, which is triggered by infection. Pneumonia is often a complication of another condition, such as influenza. A study published last year in the Journal of Infectious Diseases linked statins with a decreased risk of death for patients hospitalized for flu.
"They reduce inflammation that may be triggered by the influenza virus," Dr. Cam Patterson, distinguished professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said of the 2011 study. "This may lead to less tissue damage from the virus, making it easier for patients to recover from severe bouts of the flu."
The proportion of pneumonia cases stemming from flu included in today's study is not known.
Infections other than pneumonia, such as urinary tract infections and sepsis, were diagnosed in 3,760 participants who were taking Crestor, and 3,828 taking a placebo. The infections were classified as serious in 412 patients taking Crestor, and 456 patients taking a placebo.
"These data provide support for ongoing studies such as the Statins for Acutely Injured Lungs from Sepsis, or Sails, trial, and emphasize the need for basic investigators to continue exploring novel mechanisms by which statin therapy appears to reduce the incidence of clinical events," the authors wrote.