Drugs used to lower cholesterol could bring relief to lung disease patients, a study has shown.

Research by Edinburgh University found statins helped alleviate the chronic coughing associated with the disease.

Statins are commonly prescribed for people at risk of heart attack because of their cholesterol-reducing properties, but scientists are increasingly finding they also have anti-inflammatory effects.

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The latest study underlined their therapeutic potential in the treatment of patients with the inflammatory lung condition bronchiectasis. It comes after a leading medical academic accused critics of statins of misleading the public.

Professor Sir Rory Collins criticised articles published in the British Medical Journal which claimed statins caused harmful side effects and did not reduce mortality.

He said critics of statins were doing "a serious disservice to British and international medicine" and claimed the uncertainty over the drug was more serious than when Andrew Wakefield wrote a paper linking the MMR vaccine to autism.

Bronchiectasis, which affects around one in 1000 adults in the UK, leaves patients with symptoms including chronic coughing, excessive phlegm and repeated chest infections.

Its cause is not known but it has been linked to serious lung infections in childhood, such as whooping cough or pneumonia.

The Edinburgh team found a daily high dose of statins over a six-month period led to a significant improvement in coughing symptoms for 12 out of the 30 patients treated in the study.

The Edinburgh study is published today in the journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine.