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Statins "help kill off bacteria"

Drugs that lower cholesterol levels can also kill off bacteria, a study has discovered.

Statins are used by millions of people to help reduce the chances of heart disease for those at risk and those who have already had a heart attack or stroke.

But scientists have found that the cholesterol-lowering drug may also provide protection from serious infections, including pneumonia.

Research conducted in the US found that the medications trigger the bacteria-killing properties of white blood cells. Once they are exposed to the statins, the phagocyte blood cells are more effective at killing and ingesting foreign invaders.

The drugs cause the phagocytes to release net-like webs of DNA-based filaments embedded with anti-microbial molecules, which then trap and kill the bacteria before it can spread throughout the body.

Professor Victor Nizet, from the University of California at San Diego, who led the research, said: "We found these drugs fundamentally alter how white blood cells behave upon encountering bacteria."

Cathy Ross, from the British Heart Foundation, said: "The results are scientifically interesting and support the fact that we know statins have extra health benefits, in addition to lowering cholesterol.

"However, this is not a reason to prescribe them to the general population. For those already taking statins for heart disease, these added benefits may offer a small level of protection against bacterial infections."

The study has been reported in the journal Cell Host & Microbe.

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Cell Host & Microbe