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Atorvastatin Lowers Cholesterol but Raises Blood Sugar

Type 2 diabetes has become an epidemic in the U.S. and around the world. It is a deadly health problem. Why is the statin-diabetes connection not worrisome?

As many as 40 million people may be taking statin-type cholesterol-lowering drugs daily in the U.S. Although medications like atorvastatin, lovastatin, simvastatin, pravastatin, and rosuvastatin can bring cholesterol levels down dramatically they can also raise blood glucose levels or make diabetes harder to control as this reader relates:

Q. I used to have good blood sugar readings when I was on glyburide. Since I was put on atorvastatin to lower cholesterol I have had trouble with high blood sugar.

I read in your Guide to Managing Diabetes that statins can affect blood glucose but the clinical pharmacist at the VA said you are wrong. She insisted that atorvastatin does not affect HbA1c or blood sugar.

They now have me on both glipizide and Onglyza and the clinical pharmacist admitted that my HbA1c will not come down. She still insists I have to keep taking these medicines even if they are not working to control my diabetes.

A. We are puzzled that your pharmacist was not aware of the official prescribing information for atorvastatin (Lipitor): “Increases in HbA1c and fasting serum glucose levels have been reported with HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors [statins], including LIPITOR.”

HbA1c is a measure of how high blood sugar levels have been over the past three months. Clinical trials and other studies have shown that statins can indeed raise blood sugar levels, making it harder to control diabetes.

Blood Sugar and Statins:

There is general agreement that statin therapy increases the risk of developing diabetes (Current Atherosclerosis Reports, Jan. 2015). Research has shown that there is a 10 to 12 percent increased incidence of new-onset type 2 diabetes in statin takers.

The higher the dose and the more potent the statin the greater the risk. Investigators believe that statins “impair beta-cell function [in the pancreas] and decrease insulin sensitivity” (Nature Reviews. Endocrinology, online, Dec. 15, 2015).

What remains controversial, however, is whether people with diagnosed diabetes have a harder time controlling their blood sugar levels while taking statins. Many experts are convinced that there is no problem.

Most diabetes experts and cardiologists insist that the benefits of statins far outweigh the risks for people with prediabetes or a diabetes diagnosis. They state that should a patient develop type 2 diabetes after statin treatment they should continue on the statin and start drug treatment for their new-onset diabetes.

Patient Stories RE: Statins and Blood Sugar

Russell in Hawaii shares his experience:

“I have Type 2 diabetes and was prescribed Lipitor about six months ago. My morning sugar has been moderately elevated but under control with metformin.

“After reading all the potentially bad things about Lipitor and paying for tests which determined I have no heart disease, I quit using Lipitor two weeks ago. Immediately the next day, my morning sugar went to normal and is no longer moderately elevated.”

Cindy in PA states:

“I am a 58-yr-old female with no history of diabetes in my family. I have been taking 80 mg of pravastatin for about 3 years and now I am pre-diabetic.

“There is no history of heart disease or stroke in my family. Now that I am reading about this risk I am very angry with the medical community. My doctor insists I stay on cholesterol meds regardless of the pre-diabetes.

“I am not overweight nor is my diet bad. I never consume sugar and constantly watch my carbs & have done this for years. It is definitely the statins causing this.”

Lucy shares her family history:

“I am 50 and I never had high blood sugar, but I do have high cholesterol and have had for over 30 years. I was put on simvastatin and my normal blood sugars went from 85 to over 100.

“The doctor says type 2 diabetes is hereditary. My mom is 89 and has normal blood sugar levels, and my dad died in his late 80’s and had normal blood sugar levels. In fact, nobody in my family has had diabetes. I am normal weight.”

Rich in Florida:

“I am a 61 year old man in otherwise good health. My glucose and A1C have been on a relentless march upward ever since my doctor started me on low dose simvastatin. I started doing some research prior to my last doctor visit, when he actually increased me to a higher statin dosage (even though my cholesterol was very much within normal ranges), and changed me from atorvastatin to rosuvastatin. He told me that high dosage was indicated with diabetes – even showed me a chart!

“Anyway, I had lab work done a week ago, and glucose is way up and A1C was up almost a point. I work with a dietician to manage my diet, I exercise daily, and am not obese. The more research I do, the more I’m convinced that the statins are the cause. The multiple studies that have come out this year are not a fluke.”

Bob in Deming, WA shares his numbers:

“I’ve discovered this link on my own. I’m a numbers person – I pay attention. I noted a relatively sharp increase in blood glucose levels when I started taking simvastatin more than five years ago.

“I asked my doctor and he stated ‘the drug does more good than harm, keep taking it’. Now, he asks that I switch to atorvastatin. Hmm…my morning FBG [fasting blood glucose] levels were on the rise (145ish).

“Accidentally I have forgotten to take my bedtime simvastatin for 4 to 5 nights. For the last 4 mornings, my glucose levels are all in the 120s; today 118. Haven’t seen these numbers in awhile now.

“My conclusion:

Pretty much obvious that elevated glucose is harmful.”

Dangers of Diabetes:

What has puzzled us is the assumption that statin-induced diabetes does not warrant reconsideration and that people should continue taking their statin and just add diabetes drugs to the mix. If a medication caused a patient a severe rash we cannot imagine a dermatologist advising that individual to keep taking the medicine and just add prednisone to control the rash.

Other Options for Controlling Cholesterol:

We are sending you our Guide to Cholesterol Control and Heart Health so that you and your doctor can discuss possible alternatives for your cholesterol. Others can download it for $2 from this link.

Please share your own statin story below and vote on this article at the top of thepage.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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