Psoriasis risk may be reduced by cholesterol-lowering drugs
MedWire News: People may be less likely to develop the skin condition psoriasis while taking drugs to lower their cholesterol levels, research suggests.
The intriguing finding merits further investigation, say Christoph Meier (University Hospital Basel, Switzerland) and fellow authors writing in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Statins are widely used to treat people with high cholesterol. In addition to their lipid-lowering effects, statins have anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory effects, causing some people to propose them as a potential treatment for psoriasis.
To investigate this possibility, Meier and co-authors performed a "case-control" study. This is a way of comparing two groups of people who differ in one respect (in this case, whether or not they had a diagnosis of psoriasis) but who are similar in other respects (eg, age, gender, where they live, etc). This is a way of identifying factors that may increase or decrease the risk of a disease, such as exposure to a treatment or environmental factor.
Using a UK general practice database, Meier's team matched 36,702 patients with psoriasis with 36,702 psoriasis-free "control" individuals. They then looked at each person's medical records to determine if they had ever been prescribed a statin drug, and if so, which particular drug and for how long.
The researchers found that 5.5% of psoriasis patients were current or past users of statin drugs, compared with 4.8% of healthy controls.
When looking at statin use overall, there was no increase or decrease in the likelihood of developing psoriasis between patients who did and did not take statins.
However, the subset of people who were currently taking statins on a short-term basis (defined as between one and four prescriptions) had a significantly reduced risk for developing psoriasis when compared with people who had never taken a statin.
The decreased risk for psoriasis was seen mainly among people taking two specific types of statin - namely, simvastatin or atorvastatin - and in people who were obese.
Another type of medication used to lower cholesterol, known as fibrate, did not influence the risk for psoriasis. This suggests that the psoriasis-protective effect is specific to statins rather than to cholesterol-lowering per se, say the researchers.
Meier and co-authors say their findings "may deserve some attention" in view of the widespread use of statins and high prevalence of psoriasis. However, they also admit that a causal effect of statins on psoriasis remains to be proven, and call for their findings to be confirmed in further studies.
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By Joanna Lyford