LONDON, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- Statins, drugs used to lower cholesterol levels, also reduce deaths from infection and respiratory illness, researchers in Britain found.
In the lipid-lowering arm of the drug trial, more than 10,000 patients in Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia with high blood pressure were randomly allocated either atorvastatin or placebo between 1998 and 2000.
In 2003, the trial was stopped early because the statin proved to be highly beneficial in preventing heart attacks and strokes. Since then, most participants from both groups have been taking statins, the researchers say.
Study leader Peter Sever of the International Centre for Circulatory Health at Imperial College London says the new analysis looked at the number and cause of deaths among the 4,605 participants in the ASCOT trial based in Britain.
After 11 years' follow-up, overall mortality is 14 percent lower in the group originally assigned atorvastatin -- largely due to fewer deaths from infection and respiratory illness.
"This result is very unexpected," Sever says in a statement. "The benefits of statins for preventing heart attacks and strokes are well-established, but after long-term follow-up the most significant effects seem to be on deaths from other causes. It's quite remarkable that there is still this difference between the two groups, eight years after the trial finished."