A retrospective study of thousands of individual patient health records (US) found that people who are prescribed cholesterol-lowering statins have at least double the risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who don’t take the drug. Additionally, length of time on the drug impacts risk as well. People who take statins for more than two years have more than three times the risk of newly onset type 2 diabetes.
Could statins increase risk for type 2 diabetes?
Statins are a class of drugs that help lower cholesterol and blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. At least 200 million people worldwide are prescribed statins. Researchers and experts have long criticized over-subscribing statins and over-stating the drug’s benefits. These two factors can lead to minimal benefits, increased prescription drug costs and potential side effects. Further confusing the issue is how leading authorities worldwide have very different guidelines.
The study, published in the journal Diabetes Metabolism Research and Reviews, included 4,683 men and women who did not have diabetes, were candidates for statins based on heart disease risk and had not yet taken the drugs at the start of the study. About 16 percent of the group (755 patients) were eventually prescribed statins during the study period, which ran from 2011 until 2014. Participants’ average age was 46.
Scientists and clinicians should further explore the impact of statins on human metabolism, in particular the interaction between lipid and carbohydrate metabolism.
“The detailed analysis of health records and other data from patients in a private insurance plan provides a real-world picture of how efforts to reduce heart disease may be contributing to another major medical concern,” said Victoria Zigmont, who led the study as a graduate student in public health at The Ohio State University.
Randall Harris, a study co-author and professor of medicine and public health at Ohio State, said that the results suggest that individuals taking statins should be followed closely to detect changes in glucose metabolism and should receive special guidance on diet and exercise for prevention.
“Although statins have clear benefits in appropriate patients, scientists and clinicians should further explore the impact of statins on human metabolism, in particular the interaction between lipid and carbohydrate metabolism,” said co-author Steven Clinton, a Professor of medicine and member of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Researchers were careful to take a wide variety of confounding factors into account in an effort to better determine if the statins were likely to have caused the diabetes. Those included gender, age, ethnicity, education level, cholesterol and triglyceride readings, body mass index, waist circumference and the number of visits to the doctor.
“Statins are very effective in preventing heart attacks and strokes. I would never recommend that people stop taking the statin they’ve been prescribed based on this study, but it should open up further discussions about type 2 diabetes prevention and patient and provider awareness of the issue,” said Zigmont.