Statins do not lower risk for death from COVID-19, but may increase it, study finds

Oct. 26 (UPI) -- Treatment with cholesterol-lowering statin drugs does not boost recovery in people with severe COVID-19 and may increase their risk for death from the virus, according to a study published by PLOS ONE.

Use of statin drugs such as rosuvastatin, sold as Crestor, and atorvastatin, or Lipitor, did not lower hospitalized patients' risk for death from COVID-19, the data showed.


However, patients hospitalized with COVID-19 and taking statins had an 18% higher risk for having a more severe illness from the virus than patients who did not take cholesterol-lowering drugs, the researchers said.

"Despite the apparent beneficial effect of statins on the outcomes of various infectious diseases, our study revealed that their specific use to treat COVID-19 is probably not merited," study co-author Dr. Petros Karakousis said Tuesday in a press release.

"One plausible explanation for this finding is that statins increase cellular production of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, or ACE2, the receptor on a cell's surface through which [COVID-19] gains entry," said Karakousis, a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.


As a result, the drugs may lower the resistance of cells in the body to infection, he said.

Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, researchers have explored the possibility that commonly used and readily available drugs may be useful in treating the deadly virus.

One such drug, dexamethasone, has been shown to reduce lung inflammation and reduce the need for ventilator support in hospitalized patients.

In addition, several studies have found that statins, which are designed to lower levels of low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, a form of cholesterol linked to heart disease and stroke, may provide a protective effect against severe illness from the virus.

For this study, Karakousis and his colleagues reviewed the records for nearly 4,500 patients age 18 years and older hospitalized with COVID-19 in the Johns Hopkins Health System over a four-month period.

All of the patients had been diagnosed with test-confirmed COVID-19 between March 1 and June 30 of last year, the researchers said.

Among the study participants, 594, or 13%, were receiving statins at the time of their hospital admission.

Nearly 60% of the statin users were men, and most were ages 52 to 78, the data showed.


The largest percentage of statin users were Black people, at 47%, and 74% had high blood pressure and 53% had diabetes, both of which increase a person's risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

To be counted as a COVID-19-related death, death had to occur as a result of the disease during the hospital stay for the virus.

The researchers defined severe COVID-19 as a case in which a patient had a hospital stay of seven days or more or required invasive medical ventilation to breathe.

"All of the studies published to date, including ours, have been retrospective, and that means no matter how hard one tries to eliminate factors associated with poor COVID-19 outcomes other than statin use, some may still be at work," Karakousis said.

"For example, there's the fact that many statin users also are overweight, have diabetes or experience high blood pressure -- all things that can impact the severity of COVID-19 on their own," he said.

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