Millions of people who take statins may be less likely to die from Covid, research suggests.
The cholesterol-lowering drugs are one of the world’s most popular medications. They can also reduce inflammation in blood vessels, which has prompted questions over whether they could help with outcomes in coronavirus patients.
Now a large study published in PLOS Medicine suggests statins are associated with a slightly lower risk of dying from Covid-19. However, experts urged caution over the results and stressed that the findings did not prove that statins can reduce death rates.
The research looked at the relationship between the drugs and Covid mortality. Using data from Swedish registers, the Karolinska Institutet followed 963,876 residents of Stockholm over the age of 45 between March and November 2020.
The results were based on analyses of data on the participants’ prescribed medication and healthcare and from the cause of death register. The information was analysed with respect to such factors as diagnosed medical conditions.
The co-first author Viktor Ahlqvist, of the Department of Global Public Health at the Karolinska Institutet, said: “All in all, our findings support the continued use of statins for conditions such as cardiovascular disease and high levels of blood lipids in line with current recommendations during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The researchers cautioned that randomised studies would be needed to ascertain whether there is a causal relationship.
Limitations of the study include the use of prescription data without the possibility of checking individual drug use, and not being able to control for risk factors such as smoking and high BMI.
Tim Chico, a professor of cardiovascular medicine and honorary consultant cardiologist at the University of Sheffield, who was not involved in the study, said it was not yet clear why statins may help Covid patients.
“Covid-19 can cause very severe lung infections but it also causes inflammation of the blood vessels,” he said. “Because statins reduce inflammation in blood vessels, there has been a lot of debate as to whether they might improve outcome in Covid-19.
“This study does not prove that statins reduce death in Covid-19, but does provide some supportive clues. It observes that people prescribed statins were less likely to die than similar people. However, this does not prove the statins caused the reduced death rates; to do so needs a randomised controlled trial.”
Chico also urged caution after other drugs that had initially shown promise in helping Covid patients did not turn out to be beneficial.
“It’s important to learn from this and to be suitably measured in how we describe these results,” he said. “These results do not in any way justify using statins to treat Covid-19. We already have effective ways to lower risk of death in Covid-19 – social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing and vaccination in the population, and use of techniques and drugs with a good evidence base (like dexamethasone) in people with severe Covid-19 infections.”