A daily dose of cholesterol-busting statins has been shown to more than halve the chances of getting the crippling disease.
British researchers believe the breakthrough could pave the way for the pills – which can cost as little as 15p a day – to be taken by millions to ward off osteoarthritis.
If found to be effective they could dramatically reduce the financial burden it places on the NHS.
Public health expert Mohammed Ahmed Rashid hailed the findings of the 10-year study and said the potential impact of increasing the use of statins was “vast”.
Mr Rashid, of Cambridge University, said: “Clinical trials and cost analyses are needed to decide on the feasibility of using statins in osteoarthritis patients.”
Welcoming the study, an arthritis charity said that it could offer hope to people living with the agony of the disease. Statins, the most widely prescribed drugs on the NHS, are taken by eight million people to stave off strokes or heart attacks and save hundreds of thousands of lives each year. Keele University carried out the research because of growing evidence that arthritis is not just down to wear and tear as the body ages but also inflammation in the joints.
The study of more than 16,000 adults found that people on the highest doses of statins – 18.5mg or more a day – had 60 per cent lower osteoarthritis rates than people not taking the drugs.
Taking between 10mg to 18.5mg a day resulted in a 20 per cent reduction in the chances of getting it.
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