London: In a major study, a daily dose of cholesterol-lowering drug statins has been shown to more than halve the chances of getting arthritis.
British researchers believe the breakthrough could pave the way for low-cost pills that can ward off osteoarthritis.
Mohammed Ahmed Rashid, of Cambridge University, hailed the findings of the 10-year study, but noted that clinical trials and cost analyses are needed to decide on the feasibility of using statins in osteoarthritis patients.
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.
But researchers at the university`s Health Services Research Unit and its Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre were puzzled by the fact that some people on very low doses seemed to be at higher risk of arthritis than patients not taking statins.
Osteoarthritis affects at least 8.5 million, causing pain - usually in the hands, spine, knees and hips - as bones rub against each other as cartilage breaks down.
The researchers behind the study published in the Journal of General and Internal Medicine said the findings suggest the condition may be more closely linked to heart disease than first thought.
"Our work has shown that the risk factors for cardiovascular disease are also associated with osteoarthritis. The co-occurrence of osteoarthritis and cardiovascular disease is common," they wrote.
But experts said that more research is needed before statins could be given to patients most at risk or in the early stages of the disease.
As well as lowering cholesterol, statins are known to have an anti-inflammatory effect in fighting heart disease. Doctors believe they should be given to protect against cancer and Alzheimer`s as well as easing the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and protect diabetes sufferers against heart disease.
However last week there were warnings that statins can increase the risk of diabetes.