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Can Statins Help Protect Against COVID?

Statins are the most frequently prescribed drugs in the US. Can statins help protect against COVID? Could it be the anti-inflammatory action?
Can Statins Help Protect Against COVID?
Atorvastatin active ingredient in drug as international nonproprietary name of active pharmaceutical substance concept photo. Packaging with label “Atorvastatin medication”

Anyone who has read our books, newspaper columns or web articles knows that we are not shy about discussing statin side effects. For example, we recently described how statins could cause shortness of breath and pleural effusions. There are also reports that statins can trigger transient global amnesia (TGA). But statins also appear to prolong the survival of high-risk prostate cancer patients. The latest research suggests that statins help protect against COVID.

Statins vs. COVID?

Statin-type cholesterol-lowering drugs are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the world. The last time we checked, atorvastatin was the #1 in the US. Over 20 million people take this drug daily.

New research suggests that people taking statins are less likely to die from COVID-19 infections (PLOS One, July 15, 2021). The study reviewed medical records of more than 10,000 patients hospitalized with COVID between January and September 2020.

Statins Help Protect Against COVID: Anti-inflammatory Activity

Those who were already taking a statin were 25% less likely to have severe disease and 40% less likely to die from the infection.

The authors share this background:

“Statins have anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects that may reduce the severity of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), in which organ dysfunction is mediated by severe inflammation.”

Their Conclusions:

“Patients taking statins prior to hospitalization for COVID-19 had substantially lower odds of death, primarily among individuals with a history of CVD and/or hypertension. These observations support the continuation and aggressive initiation of statin and anti-hypertensive therapies among patients at risk for COVID-19, if these treatments are indicated based upon underlying medical conditions.”

How Might Statins Help Protect Against COVID?

The authors offer a number of possibilities for the statin benefits:

“Statin therapy has been shown to decrease inflammatory markers and provide plaque stabilization effects within coronary vasculature, irrespective of elevated cholesterol levels. Some observational studies have also found statin therapy to be associated with improved survival in patients with community acquired pneumonia, and with reduced hospitalization and mortality in influenza, presumably through inflammatory pathway modulation. Statins may also have a direct inhibitory effect on SARS-CoV2.”

Would Statins Help Protect Against COVID in People Without Heart Disease?

Many people were taking blood pressure medicine along with a statin. Since high blood pressure and heart disease predispose people to bad outcomes from COVID-19, the researchers had to do some sophisticated statistical analysis to untangle the risks.

What they found was that while such patients appeared to benefit from both BP meds and statins, other people did not experience significant protection against COVID.

That includes people with little risk for heart disease:

“Use of statins prior to hospitalization for COVID-19 is associated with a substantially reduced risk of death and severe COVID-19, especially among those with CVD or hypertension. The benefit in patients without these underlying conditions appears to be less pronounced.”

The Bottom Line:

If you are taking a statin to lower your bad LDL cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease or prostate cancer recurrence, don’t stop. You might very well get some extra protection against COVID-19. If you are otherwise healthy, though, do not beg your doctor for a statin script. It probably won’t help protect you against COVID-19.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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