The link between a popular anti-cholesterol drug and Parkinson's, a degenerative brain disease, is to be examined in depth as health officials urge patients at risk of heart attacks to keep taking the medicine.

Cholesterol-lowering statins are taken by an estimated three million Britons and are renowned for preventing heart attacks and strokes.

But scientists are planning a detailed study after research showed a link to Parkinson's, which affects around 120,000 people in the UK.

Charities urged people to continue taking their statins, saying the drugs saved lives.

According to a report inChemistry & Industry, researchers in the US plan a large-scale clinical trial on the link.

Experts at the University of North Carolina said they had found the strongest link yet between Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels and Parkinson's.

High levels of LDL cholesterol are linked to heart disease. Statins are known to reduce these LDL levels.

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, said: "Nobody should stop taking statins on the basis of this report. If they do, they will be putting themselves at increased risk of heart attack or stroke."