The People's Perspective on Medicine

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?
Statins cholesterol statin drugs

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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    Research on the pros and cons of the various medicines used to lower blood sugar and a wealth of details on non-drug approaches such as diet, supplements and special foods.

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    No doubt in my mind that my pravastatin affects my blood sugar and even the dose makes a difference. When my doctor & I agreed to lower my daily dose from 80mg to 40mg my blood glucose went down by blood test results, and my muscles felt better (the reason for trying the lower dose), BUT my cholesterol increased. So in my case it seems the adage “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” applies to statins.

    I’ve been on statins for years. Currently taking Pravastatin. I’ve had twitchy calves for the last several years. They’re not painful but are very annoying, particularly at night when I’m trying to sleep. I also used to get terrible toe cramps, especially at night. I sleep with a bar of soap under my sheets (thanks to the Peoples’ Pharmacy!). It helps tremendously. No idea why.

    My A1C and glucose were slightly elevated over the last several years. No mention of a statin relationship. I’ve recently lost weight due to a change in diet, and my glucose and A1C are fine now. I’m going to talk to my doctor about getting off, or at least lowering my statin dosage. I had no idea about this.
    Thanks for the valuable information

    I’ve been on statins for years as I have atrial fib and HCM . Then all of a sudden my A1C jumped and I am diabetic!

    For years and years I have asked myself, “why are so many on statins diabetic?
    Why are so many diabetics on statins?

    It was made to sound like an extra precaution necessary when one had diabetes. If so, would that be independent of actual Cholesterol numbers? Yes and I have muscle aches ever more .. age related (I just turned 72) ? Also, have family history of heart problems, I had a stint put in
    etc so statins, like it or not are not likely going away. Metforman .. I don’t mind taking.

    I was diagnosed with Diabetes Type II in 1994 at age 64. My doctor got the diabetes under control with little trouble. Things went along fine until sometime in early 2000. My cholesterol and trigs started showing higher results and I was put on Lipitor.

    After three months, I could hardly walk from muscle weakness, fatigue and generally feeling “good for nothing.” I was not informed of these side effects until I went back to my doctor with my complaints.

    I was put on a different statin, same results. We ran the entire store of statins with the same results. One was never found that I could tolerate, so it was decided that I would not take any more statins.

    I continue to have a slightly higher cholesterol/trig reading thanBlacksburg, is called “normal”, but with watching my diet and moderate exercise, I am still kicking at age 88 and don’t want to ever see another STATIN!! They are simply not for everyone, and doctors need to realize this and work with patients to find another acceptable way of control rather than cause someone to be rendered almost immobile from a drug that the body simply cannot tolerate!

    I have great success with my cholesterol and lowering my A1c with a fiber product called cholesterade

    Thanks to this website, I went cold turkey on the statins I had been prescribed for Type 2 diabetes. I almost immediately found my thinking and decision-making abilities improve … and the diabetes went away too. Shame on the medical community for making people sick for profit.

    I became a diabetic after being on Lipitor for several years. Won’t touch the stuff now. I am an RN and have been caring for my husband since I discovered that he had a low grade rhabdomyolysis from severe whole body cramps secondary to statins that ruined his kidneys in 2002. I’ve managed to keep him at CKD III [chronic kidney disease] until this year.

    Cardiologists took him off Entresto which caused him to crash and affected the kidneys. Nephrologist put back on it or he would have died.

    He was having leg cramps from all the Lasix, etc. Started on tonic water and got relief. Thanks for the info on cramps.

    I was taking Pravachol and later switched to Zocor. I started having trouble walking short distances and finally I could only walk when absolutely necessary. It was difficult and extremely exhausting.

    Prior to taking statins I walked the track at the gym, used the treadmills and rowers. Three neurologists tested my overall strength and I failed all the tests.

    When I stopped taking the statins my strength returned and my walking ability returned to normal. During that time my A1C continued to rise and the prescribed increase of Metformin 5000 daily led to dehydration and kidney problems due to extreme diarrhea.

    Does CoQ-10 offer any benefit in controlling blood pressure and/or diabetes?

    My sister got off statins for her elevated cholesterol due to muscle weakness in her legs. She has been on them for several years. It has been 1 month since being off of them but she still experiences leg weakness and falling. We’re hoping there is no permanent damage. Time will tell. A muscle biopsy will show results of muscle weakness due to toxic medications. That is our next step. She has replaced the statins with fish oil supplements. Current blood tests will show any improvement in her cholesterol levels.

    In 2012 I was becoming diabetic and starting on a sliding scale for insulin I was also taking a statin, they caused me to have terrible muscle cramps in my legs.

    After 10 years on statins I got off them cold turkey on my own and the cramps went away, I took up bicycle riding seriously riding long distance riding 33 mile rides two and three times a week. With the help of my endocrinologist I lost nearly 50 LBs, no longer eat potatoes, corn, french fries and try to watch my diet and needless to say watch my diet some what closer than I did years ago.

    I”m no longer diabetic and take no diabetes meds what so ever. I personally feel there is a lot of hype regarding statins and I will never take them again in my life because the leg cramps I experienced were so terribly painful. But that’s just my experience.

    My doctor tried me on every statin there is to find one that didn’t cause muscle spasms. What I found out after years of this is that the muscle damage is not reversible and becomes chronic even after stopping the drugs. I would not have taken them if I had known.

    My Mother also became diabetic after being on statin drugs. She also became fatigued easily and had muscle aches, developed dementia also.

    As working in the medical profession, I have seen several people develop dementia after being on statin drugs.

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