Statin users 50% less likely to die in hospital from severe COVID-19
Why statins? Statins are the most common type of drug that people use to lower cholesterol levels. According to the American Heart Association, they work predominately by blocking a specific cholesterol-producing enzyme, causing less production and release of cholesterol. But statins also seem to have a strong anti-inflammatory, anti-clotting, and anti-viral effect. They may also help improve wound healing in organs such as the lungs. Researchers have also been exploring whether statins can help treat viral infections that can lead to major complications, such as widespread inflammation, clotting, and associated cellular damage. One of the most severe complications associated with COVID-19 and other respiratory infections is acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). However, research evaluating the impact of statin usage on ARDS has not shown any large-scale benefits. Despite this, a 2018 study found that statin use improved outcomes in people with a hyperinflammatory subtype of ARDS. A 2017 study found that people taking statins on admission to the hospital for community-acquired pneumonia were less likely to die than people not taking them. Researchers are now trying to assess whether statins could be useful in the context of COVID-19. A 2020 study conducted in Singapore found that people taking statins were less likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) than people not taking them. Additional research found that people with COVID-19 who started taking statins after being hospitalized but who did not treatment in the ICU were 47% less likely to die. Researchers in the U.S. also recently found that statin use before hospitalization may reduce the risk of developing severe COVID-19 by 50%. The study also noted that people with COVID-19 who were taking statins before admission to the hospital saw improved recovery times. Scientists think this might be because as well as reducing inflammation, the risk of clots, and cellular damage, statins also remove cholesterol from the outer membranes of cells. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, binds and enters cells by attaching viral spike proteins to a cell’s angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2) receptors. These receptors sit in a lipid raft, a part of the cell’s membrane that contains cholesterol, proteins like ACE-2, and other fats and proteins. And studies show that removing cholesterol from these lipid rafts means that coronaviruses cannot enter cells, even after binding.