Statins May Slow Lung Function Decline in Former Smokers

October 12, 2007

BOSTON -- As former smokers age, those who take statins may benefit from a slow-down in the decline of their lung function, according to researchers here.

BOSTON, Oct. 12 -- As former smokers age, those who take statins may benefit from a slow-down in the decline of their lung function, according to an observational study by researchers here.

Older men taking statins had less than half as much annual decline in lung function over a 10-year period as those not using statins, Joel Schwartz, Ph.D., of Harvard, and colleagues, reported in the second issue for October of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Longtime smokers and recent quitters appeared to benefit the most from statin use, said Dr. Schwartz and colleagues.

Further research is needed to confirm that the effect is not simply due to confounding or selection bias, but "if this pans out, it could be a potentially important treatment," Dr. Schwartz said.

This could be particularly true for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, for which no treatments besides smoking cessation have been consistently shown to improve long-term lung function decline, the researchers said.

"Our results point to a treatment that could potentially benefit those with COPD in addition to the benefits of stopped smoking," they wrote.

However, it's too early to make clinical conclusions about a new use for statins, commented R. Graham Barr, M.D., Dr.P.H., of Columbia in New York, in an interview.

"For now, clinical decisions on statin use should be made based on cardiovascular risk rather than possible differences in lung function decline," he added.

Evidence has been accruing for anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of statins beyond their demonstrated impact on lipids.

Because inflammation is a key component in the development of COPD, the researchers analyzed statin use among 803 men in the Veterans Administration Normative Aging Study whose lung function was measured two to four times between 1995 and 2005.

For the total 2,136 measurements of lung function, 571 were during statin use and 1,565 were taken while the men were not using statins.

The average age was slightly higher among statin users (71.7 versus 70.5 years) and coronary heart disease was substantially more common among those on statins (57.3% versus 17.8%), but other characteristics were similar across groups.

Among statin users and nonusers, respectively, smoking status was:

  • 28.6% and 31.1% never-smokers.
  • 62.4% and 55.2% quit smoking at least 10 prior to the reference measurement.
  • 6.7% and 8.4% were quit smoking within 10 years prior.
  • 2.3% and 5.3% were current smokers.

Controlling for age and race, statin use was associated with significantly slower estimated annual decline in both forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1, 10.9 versus 23.9 ml/year, P

The male predominantly white patient population limited the study as well because lung function decline is thought to vary by sex, age, and race, they added.

Nevertheless, "this is an important area of research and hopefully will be confirmed in randomized clinical trials," Dr. Barr concluded.

The researchers and Dr. Barr reported no conflicts of interest.