FRIDAY, Jan. 28 (HealthDay News) -- A new study debunks the idea that the cholesterol-fighting drugs known as statins work better in people with high levels of a certain protein and may not work at all in those with low levels.

Researchers found that the drugs work the same -- at least in heart patients, older men with high blood pressure and diabetics -- regardless of the results of a test that looks for concentrations of so-called C-reactive protein.

"The bottom line is, if you have vascular disease or diabetes, you will derive substantial benefit from statin treatment," said Dr. Gregg C. Fonarow, a cardiology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the research.

However, Fonarow said, the findings do not say whether levels of the protein will affect the effectiveness of the drugs in healthy people.

According to Fonarow, research suggests that statins reduce the risk for heart disease "events" -- such as a heart attack -- by 24 percent to 52 percent. "The cardiovascular benefits of statins extend to men and women, old and young, and even to patients with baseline LDL-cholesterol levels lower than 100 milligrams per deciliter [mg/dcl]," he said. LDL, or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, is the type that causes plaque to form, narrowing arteries.

Some research has linked levels of C-reactive protein to better or worse effectiveness. In the new study, researchers in the United Kingdom assigned 20,536 men and women at high risk for heart problems to take either the statin Zocor (simvastatin) or a placebo for an average of five years.

The study, published online Jan. 28 in The Lancet, found no link between levels of the protein and benefits from the drug. Even people with low levels of LDL cholesterol and the protein -- those thought to perhaps be immune to the drug's effects -- showed benefits.

In the big picture, Fonarow said, people shouldn't worry about levels of the protein in their bodies.

"Patients interested in their cardiovascular health should be most focused on achieving healthy LDL-cholesterol, blood pressure and body weight levels along with engaging in daily exercise, eating a healthy diet, not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke," he said.

The study was partially funded by Merck, which makes Zocor.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about cholesterol.