Over 10 years ago we began hearing from readers of our newspaper column that statin-type cholesterol-lowering medicine might be having an impact on blood sugar control. One of the first messages was from Rush:
“I am a type 2 diabetes patient who is also taking Lipitor. I take glucophage and glucotrol and I have recently been having trouble with my elevated blood sugars. I do not seem to be able to get them to an acceptable level.”
Initially, we discounted this kind of story. We just couldn’t imagine that drugs like atorvastatin (Lipitor), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor) or simvastatin (Zocor) could make blood glucose harder to control in people with type 2 diabetes.
A message in 2002 from Helene got our attention, though: “Recently, the physician prescribed Lipitor for my husband and myself. We both have been diganosesd with type 2 diabetes. We are both taking glyburide and my husband takes Avandia in addition. Since we have started on Lipitor, our blood sugar has been rising rapidly.”
The idea that statins could make diabetes worse seemed so heretical that we decided to bring this to the attention of Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, who at the time was Principal Investigator of the UCSD (University of California, San Diego) Statin Study. She responded to our inquiry on Dec. 31, 2002:
“There are two studies that have shown unexpected significant increases in blood sugar or in hemoglobin A1C (which is an index of blood sugar over time) with statin use. Though increases are modest on average, some people appear to experience more considerable increases.”
That really floored us. As far as we could tell, most physicians were unaware of this possible side effect of statins. In fact most physicians seemed quite convinced that people with diabetes needed to be on statins to prevent the cardiovascular complications of this disease. When we asked diabetes experts about the possibility statins like atorvastatin or simvastatin might raise blood glucose, they dismissed such a notion out of hand.
And yet the messages kept coming:
“Because of muscle weakness, fatigue and mild depression, it was necessary for me to stop Lipitor 10mg. Hoping a smaller dose of statin would not cause side effects, I took Zocor (simvastatin) 5mg. After 1 1/2 years on Zocor, tests were done to determine why I had neuropathy. One of the tests showed increased blood sugar and A1c. After stopping Zocor, the neuropathy has disappeared and the blood sugar and A1c are within normal limits. I also lost some weight during this time so it may be more due to coincidence.” Carol, Feb. 6, 2003.
But the stories kept coming. Dot offered this on Jan. 21, 2003:
“My husband was put was put on Lipitor one year ago. At his last checkup his cardiologist mentioned to him that his blood sugar was elevated. If it was not down by his next visit the doctor said he might have to put him on an oral medication. On his most recent visit his fasting blood sugar was 133, his A1C was 5.1. There is a
family history of hyperglycemia on his side of the family.”

Not long after that a woman wrote to say: “I have been on statins (Mevacor and later Zocor) for approximately 17 years. My glucose was high normal until the last 3 years when it moved into the high range. I brought this to the attention of my doctor who said he was not aware of any studies suggesting statins could raise blood sugar. My glucose reading was elevated at my most recent physical and my doctor said that I was now a diabetic.”
Most health professional characterize such stories as “anecdotal.” In other words, unscientific. Then along came the JUPITER trial. This study involved over 17,000 healthy men and women who were randomized to receive either rosuvastatin (Crestor) or placebo. They were tracked for almost two years. This statin was quite effective in reducing LDL cholesterol and a marker of inflammation called C-reactive protein. The drug “reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events.” It also produced a “higher incidence of physician-reported diabetes.” [New England Journal of Medicine, Nov. 20, 2008].
Now there was some scientific evidence to support the anecdotes. Still, the medical community could not really believe that statins might be in some way causing diabetes. Then along came a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology [April 5, 2011]. The investigators reviewed data from three clinical trials. They found that people taking atorvastatin (Lipitor) were at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This likelihood was especially strong among people with other predictors for diabetes: high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and excess pounds.
In one of the trials, nearly half the participants with these characteristics developed diabetes while taking Lipitor. One of five volunteers on placebo with these traits was diagnosed with diabetes. The researchers recommended that people without heart disease should use diet and exercise instead of drugs to lower cholesterol, if possible. They also suggested that doctors should monitor their patients on Lipitor to detect early warning signs of diabetes.
http://content.onlinejacc.org/cgi/content/abstract/57/14/1535
The most recent study to suggest that there really is a link between statins and a higher risk of diabetes comes from the Journal of the American Medical Association (June 22/29, 2011). People on high-dose statin therapy had a greater risk of developing new-onset diabetes compared with moderate-dose statin therapy.
Where does all this leave patients with elevated cholesterol levels? People with heart disease, or those who have had heart attacks or stents are likely to have more benefits than problems with statins. But otherwise healthy people with elevated cholesterol may need to balance this new complication against potential benefit. If you also experience side effects such as muscle pain, weakness or nerve pain (neuropathy), the equation may tip the wrong way. Please discuss the latest research with a physician to see what the new data mean for you.

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  1. Jean K
    Reply

    I was informed that I was a diabetic in the hospital for corrective surgery. I was also told the I had high blood pressure so now I’m on Metiformin ER 500mg and Lisporil 10mg. Weeks went by and my doctor told me that I have high cholesterol which I’m taking Lovastatin 10mg. When I’m taking meds I do a research on my meds. With that checking I found out the lovastatin will raise blood sugar levels. I question my doctor about this and why did he prescribe this drug to me when I’m a diabetic and his response was “that lovstatin doesn’t affect every body with the rise of blood sugar.” That was my answer. I could be that one person that lovastain will affect blood sugar. I don’t trust doctors any more. I believe that when doctors push medication on you they get some money for it. Medication will do more harm than good.

  2. crandreww
    Reply

    @Margaret…ONLY YOU have the power to say yes or no to this bullying. Doctors are taught to treat numbers, not patients. If you do not want to take a statin, by all means, DON’T. If your doc is relentless, as most are, I suggest you find a new doctor…there are good ones out there who actually listen, and KNOW that statins offer at best a 0.34% chance at reducing a persons risk of heart attack…that means less than 1 out of 100 people taking a statin will benefit…in my book, NOT worth the live changing risks…

  3. Margaret B.
    Reply

    Thanks everyone for the info! I recently had blood work done–all my numbers are good (Chol, LDL, HDL, Trigs, and A1c. Yes, I am overweight, but as long as my important numbers are ok…). My CNP “strongly suggested” I start taking a statin (she suggested Lipitor). We talked and I kept saying that I didn’t want to since all my numbers seem to be in the “good” range. She keeps suggesting, and at my next appt for physical in Sept, we will discuss again.
    I don’t want to! Why the push to put me on a statin? I already have to take 2 meds (oral diabetes med and a med for HBP) and don’t want to start taking a bunch of meds just because it might help. Why are medical professionals so eager to prescribe meds when a person is doing fine as is? I’m happy with my numbers so why can’t my medical professional be too?

  4. ma
    Reply

    After reading this had A1C climb from 5.0 to over 6.0 in less than 1 year taking statins.
    No exercise, workaholic at office behind computer eating junk food.
    Now Exercise at YMCA, for 6 months, minimum 3 days a week and lost weight from ~ 190 to ~165, Male 5’8″
    age 61. ( Spend 2.5 to 3hours at gym. Treadmill, Exercise Bike, Circuit Training ( close to 1 hour each )
    My A1C has been dropping fast, now about 5.2, Doc shut up about putting me on meds for the high A1C.
    My suggestion, lose weight, exercise, change diet away from Carbs, it is hard, but I finally retired, so now I can go to gym these days, no more leg cramps, knee pains, and just started to slowing get away from atorvastatin 20mg dose.
    Our society had been fixated on a pill fix from the Doctor’s then I realized one day, most of the patients in
    Doctor office’s fell into this category, no exercise, eat carbs, weight was an issue.
    Now feel better that I did than the last 5 years, hope this advice helps.
    Seems so Common Sense, but the hard thing is to change one’s life style. It takes time, but worth in the investment in one’s health.

  5. Jannelle P.
    Reply

    I have been on Statin Cholesterol drugs for five or six years now. Within a year or less, I started running Border Line Diabetes. I have been on Simvastatin, Rosuvastatin, and now for about four months have been on Crestor. Since I have been on Crestor, my Blood Glucose has really raised, and I have been trying to get it down and it is really hard. It has gotten up to 215 and 200 a few weeks ago, so I told my Doctor, and he just did a new Glucose test and I haven’t gotten the results back yet!
    I am very concerned and I think the Statin Cholesterol drugs have caused this to happen and I am going to have to do something about it soon! My Cholesterol level finally was brought down on the Crestor, but my Glucose went way up. I feel I can’t win for losing as one gets better, the other gets worse?????????????? I am not very happy right now, but will have to see what the Doctor say’s about all this?

  6. Steve
    Reply

    I’m a 52yr old male with stent placed 3yrs ago. Cardiologist placed me on Lipitor right afterward along with Plavix. Last yr at work health clinic was told I’m pre-diabetic. I knew I need to loose about 50lbs but I have never had a “sweet tooth” and just don’t indulge in surgary foods. Dr is always focused on my elevated LDL, lower HDL and definitely high Triglycerides which are heriditary as my dad’s Dr was always fussing about his high levels. Today Dr called to say my LDL was single digits so he’s lowering my Lipitor dose.
    Really? I’ve told him of memory, muscle aches, fatigue, and obviously have completely changed my eating to mostly vegetables and now he finally wants to lower the Lipitor. Oh and wants me to now take something to lower the triglycerides which are likely from the few beers I get to enjoy. I really don’t think these Dr.s will ever be satisfied, something is always not to their liking. While I can appreciate it at the same time one has to almost not eat anything enjoyable to get everything low enough, weight, blood pressure, triglycerides, LDL, sugar and the list never ends. I’m just about fed up with the whole healthcare industry. They’ve lost their focus and sight of what is important, a patient’s quality of life. It’s enough to drive one insane!

  7. Lita
    Reply

    My mom was put on Lipitor about 10 years ago. About 7 years ago she was diagnosed with type II diabetes. Last year my mother-in-law was put on Lipitor for over all cholesterol of about 190 (she’s 80 yrs, old) Within a month she was told that her sugar levels were elevated and that she had to be on diabetes medication. I could not and would not believe that my mother-in-law was a diabetic!
    Dolores has never been over weight, never made it a habit of indulging in fast food, never made it a habit of drinking sugar filled drinks (pop), has always eaten a varied and balanced diet, has always been active and exercised. I called my mom (Mrs. Medicine) and asked if when she took her cholesterol medicine did her blood sugar go up. I was given an emphatic yes. So we got my mother-in-law off the statin and her blood sugar normalized, (no diabetes).
    Now Dolores has a new doctor and the same thing is happening all over again. I asked her why she would go on Lipitor again and she said the doctor said to her “if you were my mother, this is what I would prescribe”. What am I supposed to do? She has terrible leg pain now and can hardly walk. I’ve noticed the leg that is in pain is turning inward and she is always sitting in a twisted way in order to relieve the pain. Not to mention any day now her new doctor is going to discover that she has elevated blood sugar. What a vicious circle.

  8. SPD
    Reply

    There must be millions of people who need answers to these questions (including me). I’d like to see a meta study of all the data gathered so far.
    Note: Yes, the stories you received from individuals are, by definition, anecdotal, and therefore not a scientific basis for declarations or decisions.

  9. JC
    Reply

    I have been on Simastatin for about 2 years. For the last year I have been told I had pre diabetes and put on Metformin. Last visit, they said the Metformin wasn’t working and put me on another drug to help my pancreas make insulin. I took it for a day or two and then saw that diabetes can be caused by statins. This is the only explanation that makes sense. I’m thin, no family history. I did drink a hell of a lot of soda for a few decades though. That is the only thing that I think might have brought this on.
    Anyway, against two doctors advices, I’ve quit taking the statin for a little over a week now to see if that’s whats causing this depressing disease from taking me over. My cholesterol, the bad stuff was 189, that’s why they put me on the statin, but now I’m trying to fix the cholesterol issue with foods and exercise.
    My question: How long after stopping the statin will it take me to find out if that was the cause? I can’t eat any carbs now without my blood sugar soaring. Grapes? forget about it.
    Thanks for the help.

  10. crandreww
    Reply

    @Patsy I am so sorry to hear about your medical problems. Isnt the Lipitor supposed to prevent your stent from re occluding? I would strongly recommend you consume more antioxidant rich foods, such as Spinach, Cherries, Raisins, Blue berries, Pomegranate, etc… they will work BETTER than any toxic chemical your doc want to make you take..

  11. Patsy
    Reply

    I had a heart attack in 1995. I was 42 at the time. I have a stent now that is 50% blocked. I was put on Lipitor at that time. I take 20mg. Over the years things have happened. I develop diabetes, high blood pressure. I take 3 meds. for it and 2 for diabetes. for the last 6mos. I have started having a lot of muscle spasms , soreness in my calfs. Down the sides of my hips really bad in the mornings. Cramps or spasms would wake me at night. Very painful. Feel like I have to stretch my legs and when I do they will cramp up so bad.
    I stopped taking the Lipitor. My last one was 6-4-12. I didn’t have the pain as bad in my legs when I got up this morning. I think it is causing my problem. I am very confused about what to do. Am I signing my own death warrant by stopping it? The problems seem to have gotten worse since I have went on the generic.

  12. Sam N.
    Reply

    My experience with statins (Pravachol 20mg/day) has been muscle degeneration & nerve damage.
    It got so bad that I had to crawl out of bed & raise myself with help from a chair or table that I could grasp.
    I stopped all statins about 6 months ago & am now regaining my muscle strength & regaining response in my hands (such as writing control).

  13. dkd
    Reply

    Question. Had 5 bi pass surgery and doc wants statins to be my daily habit. Friends have diabetes after taking statins for 3 years. So far I have not taken them but blood chemistry is 116 ldl. Recommendation? Also will a steady dose of black tea, soy mile and tablespoons of honey cause ldl?
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: With your history, you may well need a statin. Try the non-drug approaches, but keep in close touch with your doctor. Make sure s/he knows why you are reluctant.
    The black tea should not cause any elevation in LDL, but tablespoons of honey could contribute to higher triglycerides, which might have an impact on the LDL. Can you make do with less?

  14. crandreww
    Reply

    Lipitor Paradox (Sad but true account of a typical Dr Office Visit today)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GqdzJLOQM2I&sns=em
    Remember Statins = atorvastatin (Lipitor), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol), rosuvastatin (Crestor), simvastatin (Zocor), and
    pitavastatin (Livalo). And ALL have the potential to CAUSE the same side effects…

  15. cpmt
    Reply

    Co. Q10…. helps a lot after menopause. It gives energy and helps your heart… ask you doc. if you should take it (its a co-enzyme needed by our bodies and with age it lowers the levels in our bodies, we need it.

  16. roseglass
    Reply

    i glad this information about statins and diabetes has come out, because i had been taking simvastatin and everytime i went to get my lab work done, my A1C was always high and my doctor was always getting after me, and he never believed me that I was always suffering from body and leg cramping.
    When this article came out on my next visit I made sure to take the article, my simvastatin was changed to pravastatin after my cardiologist gave me verapamil and told my doctor i could not continue taking the simvastatin and my cramping is almost gone. And my sugars are continuing to improve

  17. JRB
    Reply

    I am Type 2 diabetic but my sugar levels had been static (about 7) for over 18 months. Earlier this year I was put on Simvastatin to lower my cholestral levels ( below 5). Almost immediately I suffered from hot sweats at night and my sugar levels went over 24. I immediately contacted my doctor who took me off the Simvastatin and increased my levels of Metformin and Glicazide. Further blood tests showed a reducing sugar level so the doctor has now put me onto Pravastatin which, so far, has given me no side effects.

  18. paulbyr
    Reply

    I keep reading these Type II diabetes vs statin letters because I started Zocor about 1994 and, as well as I can remember, my left foot started getting numb then. A year ago, my Dr. was concerned about the numbness and sent me to a neurologist. That wasted several hundred of Medicare dollars to find out I had – DUH! – neuropathy! I never have any diabetes II symptoms and stay at a good weight. I am ready to discuss this correlation with my internist who seems open to ideas. I now will ALWAYS ask a doctor if a test or treatment is out of curiosity or is looking toward relieving/curing a problem I have. (I still have to figure out a less confrontive way to ask it).

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