A new study conducted by Columbia University researchers has found that cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins can possibly reduce the chances of severe heart diseases in people with sleep apnea.

Sleep apnea is a common condition found in older adults. At its wake, people face difficulties in falling asleep which in turn leads to high blood pressure and eventually a range of cardiac diseases such as heart arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), heart attacks and strokes.

The study, published in the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society, suggests the medication can be beneficial even for those who use continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices to facilitate a normal sleeping order, as per Medical Express.

CPAP provides restful sleep to those with obstructive sleep apnea by reducing daytime fatigue, but recent clinical trials proved it doesn’t have the potential to improve heart health as physicians wrongly hypothesized.

Therefore, doctors felt the immediate need to look for a better alternative as the condition triples the chances of heart disease, stroke, or other cardiovascular effects. The study, led by Sanja Jelic, associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, found statins to be one such method.

The study involved 87 people with recently-detected sleep apnea, who use CPAP. The patients were randomly given either statins or a placebo. The researchers noted that statins and not CPAP protected the blood vessels from the dangerous inflammatory changes that occur in people with sleep apnea.

As part of the study, researchers noted that lower cholesterol levels can stabilize the levels of CD59 protein--a component that keeps inflammation in check in blood vessels by protecting cells against complement (a group of proteins that promote inflammation) activity. Doctors noted that the study participants had more stabilized levels of CD59 in their blood after four weeks of cholesterol-lowering statin therapy, which CPAP alone couldn’t do.

"The effect we found with statins is important," says Jelic, according to Sleep Review. "Inflammation in the blood vessels is a key step in the progression of cardiovascular disease, so anything that we can do to stabilize CD59 in these patients is likely to be beneficial for heart health."

The doctors also found out that CPAP does more harm than good as it increases angiopoietin-2 levels in the blood. Angiopoietin-2 is a protein linked to increased inflammation and other heart diseases. During the study, statins lowered angiopoietin-2 levels in patients with sleep apnea.

"We still believe CPAP is very useful since it improves sleep and reduces daytime fatigue," Jelic says. "But CPAP also seems to have negative effects on the cardiovascular system. We need to investigate whether we should use more conservative airway pressures or other less-utilized treatments like oral appliances to treat patients with obstructive sleep apnea."

Further clinical trials of the statins therapy are required to give a definitive verdict on its effectiveness in curing heart diseases, Jelic said. Currently, Statins are prescribed to only 8-13% of the overall number of patients with sleep apnea.