Statins and the liver

Long-term use of statins, a drug widely prescribed to prevent artery-blocking cholesterol, is less risky than thought for patients with a common form of liver disease, according to a study published on Wednesday by The Lancet.

Statins work by blocking a liver enzyme that makes fatty molecules which line arterial walls and boost the danger of heart disease and strokes.

Doctors commonly choose not to prescribe these drugs to people with high levels of a type of liver enzyme which is often a telltale of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD.

Few studies have until now been carried out into the benefits or risks of this policy, and the probes have been small and short-term.


In the biggest and longest investigation of its kind, doctors in Greece enrolled 437 patients who had abnormal liver function tests and were believed to have NAFLD.

Of these, 227 of whom were treated with a statin, while the others were not treated.

Over the three-year duration of the study, 10 percent of patients in the statin group had a heart attack or a stroke, while in the non-statin group, this was 20 percent. The benefit for the statin group was a relative risk reduction of more than two-thirds.

Bouts of liver-related sickness were equal in both groups, indicating no adverse affects on the liver from taking statins.

The study was led by Vasilis Athyros from the Hippokration University Hospital in Thessaloniki, Greece and Dimitri Mikhailidis from University College London, London.

Statins may ward off infections

Cholesterol-lowering drugs have a useful side effect – killing bacteria, scientists have discovered.

The statin drugs taken by millions of people around the world to cut their risk of heart disease may protect against serious infections such as pneumonia, researchers believe.

A US study found that the medications activate the bacteria-killing properties of white blood cells.


In laboratory experiments, phagocyte blood cells that kill and ingest foreign invaders became more effective after being exposed to statins.

The phagocytes were prompted to release “extracellular traps” – net-like webs of DNA-based filaments embedded with anti-microbial molecules. The traps ensnare and kill bacteria before they have a chance to spread in the body.

Professor Victor Nizet, from the University of California at San Diego, who led the research, said: “We found these drugs fundamentally alter how white blood cells behave upon encountering bacteria.”

The study was reported today in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.

Cathy Ross, from the British Heart Foundation, said: “The results are scientifically interesting and support the fact that we know statins have extra health benefits, in addition to lowering cholesterol.

“However, this is not a reason to prescribe them to the general population. For those already taking statins for heart disease, these added benefits may offer a small level of protection against bacterial infections.”