In addition to reducing your risk of heart disease, lowering cholesterol could also help fight viral infections, a study finds.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Edinburgh found a direct link between the workings of the immune system and cholesterol levels.
The researchers have shown that when the body succumbs to a viral infection, a hormone in the immune system sends signals to blood cells. This causes cholesterol levels to be lowered.
Cholesterol is needed for viruses and certain bacteria to grow. Therefore, lowering cholesterol levels would makes it difficult for them to thrive.
“What we have discovered is that a key immune hormone stimulated upon infection can lower cholesterol levels and thereby deprive viral infections of the sustenance they need to grow,” said Professor Peter Ghazal, Division of Pathway Medicine.
The researchers hope to find new ways of combating viral infections, which could for example involve mimicking immune signals sent out to lower the production of cholesterol.
Currently, antiviral drugs are used to fight viral infections by targeting the machinery that enables viruses to multiply. Antibiotics are used to fight bacterial infections by targeting the bug directly, but bugs are able to mutate and develop new strains that are drug-resistant.
This new treatment would help overcome the problems associated with antibiotic resistance, as it enhances the way the body responds to an infection, instead of focusing on attacking the infection itself.
“Drugs are available to lower cholesterol levels, but the next step would be to see if such drugs would also work to help bolster our immune systems,” he said.
The research is published in the journal PLoS Biology and is funded by the Wellcome Trust, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the British Heart Foundation.