January 24, 2006

Anti-cholesterol drugs can cut sepsis risk: study

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - Cholesterol-lowering drugs can reduce
the risk of severe infection in patients suffering from heart
disease or stroke, scientists said on Wednesday.

The drugs, known as statins, lower cholesterol by
inhibiting an enzyme that controls how much is produced in the

Doctors in Canada have also discovered that statins act
against sepsis, a dangerous condition which is a major cause of
deaths in hospital intensive care units.

In a study involving data on 69,000 elderly patients, the
researchers said the drugs cut hospital admissions for sepsis
by nearly 20 percent in patients who had been previously been
treated for cardiovascular disease.

"The use of statins in patients older than 65 years old
with atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) was associated
with a 19 percent reduced risk of sepsis," said Dr Donald
Redelmeier, of Sunnybrook & Women's Hospital in Ontario,
Canada, who headed the research team.

Sepsis is a serious infection caused by bacteria in the
blood or body. It is particularly dangerous in the elderly and
critically ill patients and can lead to organ failure and

Redelmeier and researchers from the University of Toronto
studied data on older patients who had been hospitalized for
stroke or heart problems. More than 34,000 had been prescribed
a statin within 90 days of being discharged from hospital and
an equal number had not been given the drugs.

After two years, 551 patients who had been taking statins
were admitted to hospital for sepsis, compared to 667 patients
in the control group.

The researcher, whose findings are reported online by The
Lancet medical journal, called for more clinical trials to test
the effectiveness of statins against sepsis.

Pfizer's Lipitor, Merck's Zocor and AstraZeneca's Crestor
are among the leading statins.

A raised cholesterol level, along with smoking, diabetes,
high blood pressure and being overweight or obese, is a risk
factor for heart disease, one of the biggest killers in Western

Statins, which are taken by millions of people to reduce
levels of LDL -- or so-called "bad" cholesterol -- have also
been shown to reduce the risk of stroke.

LDL deposits fat in the arteries while HDL, or good
cholesterol, carries it away.

French researchers who studied the impact of the drugs on
Alzheimer's patients said they may also help to delay the
progression of dementia.