Wayne State University researchers have found that hospitalized COVID-19 patients who took statins regularly before they got sick were less likely to die from the disease or have severe infections.
“What is needed is a randomized controlled trial to provide the next level of evidence.” — Dr. Prateek Lohia, on the need for more research into whether statins can lead to better COVID-19 outcomes for hospitalized patients
Statins, such as Lipitor, are most commonly prescribed to treat high cholesterol. But they have other roles, too.
“They have anti-inflammatory properties and control the immune system at various levels,” says Dr. Prateek Lohia, an assistant professor of internal medicine at WSU.
Lohia says clinicians had very little knowledge about COVID-19 when patients started filling hospitals in 2020, or how to treat it. He began reading scientific literature to see if any medications might help treat the novel coronavirus. He says studies had already been done on how statins might help people with other viral infections.
“We found some observational studies that noted a significant decrease in mortality from influenza and community-acquired pneumonia,” Lohia says.
The Wayne State team began its own observational study to see how statins might help COVID-19 patients in Detroit. They observed more than 1,000 patients at Detroit Receiving and Harper University hospitals. Lohia says about 45% of those observed had been taking statins at home. Their mean age was 65, most were Black and many had comorbidities known to increase the risk of severe infection and death from COVID-19. The researchers noticed that those who had been taking statins at home before they were admitted had a lower mortality rate and were less likely to suffer severe infections than those who had not.
Lohia says dosage also made a difference.
“Moderate and high doses did have an effect compared to patients who are taking low doses,” he says.
The early results of the study are promising, but Lohia warns that more research is needed.
“Ours was just an observational study, which shows association but does not point toward causation,” he says. “What is needed is a randomized controlled trial to provide the next level of evidence.”
The WSU study was published in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology.
Listen: The potential benefits of statins for COVID-19 patients.