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Statins and Diabetes | What Happens When Blood Sugar Rises?

What happens when a prescribed medication raises blood sugar levels? Are statins and diabetes connected? What if glucose levels return to normal when statins are stopped?

A few years ago three pillars of modern medicine recommended that virtually all adults with diabetes should take statin-type cholesterol-lowering drugs. This is what the American Diabetes Association stated in its New Standards of Care in 2014: “…all people with diabetes take either moderate or high doses of statins, in keeping with recent changes to guidelines for cardiovascular risk management enacted by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Association (AHA).” There’s one catch with this guideline about statins and diabetes: drugs like atorvastatin, rosuvastatin and simvastatin sometimes trigger diabetes or make it harder to control blood sugar.

A Reader Complains about Statins and Diabetes:

Q. Statins raise blood sugar. I took them twice and both times my blood sugar got out of control.

When that happened, the doctor prescribed meds for diabetes. I felt fine without the drugs, but the medicines made me feel sick.

The answer was to take more meds, both the statin and the diabetes drugs. Am I really a diabetic if my blood sugar is high only when I am taking a statin?

A. You raise a fascinating question. Most experts in cardiology and metabolic disorders insist that all patients with diabetes should be on statins. We often read articles that begrudgingly admit that statins may “slightly raise blood sugar levels.”

The specialists suggest, however, that this is not that big a deal. Any elevation in blood sugar is theoretically outweighed by the overwhelming benefits of statins. A connection between statins and diabetes should, they say, not be a cause for alarm.

Statins and Diabetes: No Worries Mate?

James P. Smith, M.D., M.S., is deputy director of the Division of Metabolism and Endocrinology at the FDA. An agency article titled “Controlling Cholesterol with Statins” offers the following:

“I’ve heard that there are some risks to taking statins. Should I be worried?

“Statins are typically very well tolerated. Two risks that patients may be aware of are muscle-related complaints and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. ‘Muscle complaints are quite common even among people not taking statins, so it is important to have your healthcare provider evaluate any symptoms before stopping your medication,’ Smith explains. ‘It is rare for statins to cause serious muscle problems.’

Similarly, the risk of developing diabetes as a result of a statin is small. ‘The benefits of statins in reducing heart attacks and strokes should generally outweigh this small increased risk,’ Smith says.”

We’re not as convinced that elevations in blood sugar brought on by statins are not very worrisome. Whenever someone develops diabetes, we are concerned. That’s because of the serious consequences of this metabolic disorder.

You may be surprised to learn that not all physicians agree about how to treat diabetes. Here are two recent articles demonstrating serious differences of opinion:

The Debate over the Diabetes Diet:

If you think that is something, wait until you read about the controversy surrounding the diabetes diet:

Statins and Diabetes–Not the only Drugs That Raise Blood Sugar:

Many medicines can increase blood glucose levels including statins, corticosteroids like prednisone and diuretics. If blood sugar returns to normal when the medicine is discontinued, ask your doctor if there is another way you can control your cholesterol.

Readers Share Stories About Statins and Diabetes:

Berry in Surprise, Arizona, had a similar experience:

“I had my A1c go to 6.5, I was taken off of statins and it went to 5.4. Why aren’t people told the cause of diabetes is the statins?”

Geetha in India developed diabetes after taking rosuvastatin (Crestor):

“I had no problems with my sugar until I started taking rosuvastatin. At first, the statin caused body aches and pains and unexplained abdominal discomfort. I stopped taking it and felt much better. But my doctor said because of my borderline cholesterol and high trigs including LDL and VLDL, I had to take statins.

“Now, after a year of taking statins my cholesterol levels are completely normal but I have diabetes. My glucose is 216. I have body aches and extreme fatigue along with leg cramps, thirst and frequent trips to the bathroom at night. This makes it hard for me to sleep well at night.

“During the day I tire easily and suffer from extreme fatigue after the mildest of activities. I am 62 and female.”

T.S. shared this story of statins and diabetes:

“I believe simvastatin caused type 2 diabetes in my elderly mother. I believe it exacerbated her dementia, as well.

“Her doctor had her on atenolol and simvastatin. I thought she seemed like she was in a fog. Finally, I took her to a noted cardiologist and he said, GET HER OFF THOSE DRUGS! She doesn’t need them. This cardiologist, in Seattle, assured me that there was a connection between statins & blood sugar.

“I wish more doctors and medical professionals would pay attention to the research.

“I took my mom off simvastatin and atenolol and a lot of anti-dementia drugs. She is about 70% improved. We worked hard to lower her blood sugars through diet and mild exercise and it worked. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t that terrible either.”

Managing Diabetes:

We have a list of drugs that may boost blood sugar in our Guide to Managing Diabetes. Anyone who would like a copy, please send $3 in check or money order with a long (no. 10) stamped self-addressed envelope:

  • Graedons’ People’s Pharmacy, No. DM-11
  • P. O. Box 52027
  • Durham, NC 27717-2027.

A pdf electronic version can be purchased at this link.

Share your own story of statins and diabetes in the comment section below. If you have been able to take statins without experiencing side effects or blood sugar elevations please share your story as well.

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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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