People who take statins and end up in the hospital with pneumonia are more likely to survive than those who are not taking a cholesterol-lowering drug, according to a study in Archives of Internal Medicine.
It’s possible that statins, some of the most commonly prescribed medications in the world, may help fight lung infections. On the other hand, people who take them may be in better health to begin with, which could explain their ability to survive a serious infection.
If statins are shown to fight infection, they could prove to be “a cheap and effective way of treating pneumonia, which would be wonderful,” says Reimar W. Thomsen, MD, PhD, of Aarhus University and Aalborg Hospital in Aalborg, Denmark, who led the study. “We really need new treatment options for pneumonia because it’s a great burden on health-care systems.”
Animal research has shown that statins reduce inflammation and fight blood clotting, so it’s scientifically plausible that they could help treat infections too. There have been studies showing benefits of statins in patients with sepsis, a life-threatening blood infection, as well as pneumonia.
However, the study could also be picking up on a so-called healthy-user effect. Healthy users tend to see their doctors regularly, take their medications as prescribed, exercise, eat their fruits and veggies, and avoid smoking.
Such people also tend to be prescribed medications like statins—or, if they were menopausal women a few years ago, estrogen. In that case, the healthy-user effect made it look like these women were getting benefits like stronger bones and healthier hearts from the hormone—until the Women’s Health Initiative study demonstrated that estrogen was actually harmful.