bottles of crestor lipitor and simvastatin cholesterol-lowering drugs, numbness in fingers and toes, statins fail

There is no nice way to say this. Cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins cause diabetes. This is not new news, but it is unwelcome. When lovastatin (Mevacor) was approved by the FDA more than 30 years ago there was no hint that it could raise blood sugar. Ditto for many of the popular statins that followed, such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), pravastatin (Pravachol) and simvastatin (Zocor). The drug company-sponsored-clinical trials did not detect a metabolic problem. It took the FDA roughly 15 more years to send out a a warning that: “Increases in blood sugar levels have been reported with statin use” (FDA Drug Safety Communication, Feb. 28, 2012).  Now, seven years later comes confirmation that statins cause diabetes (British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, March 5, 2019).

Don’t Worry, Be Happy!

We first suspected that statins might be associated with blood sugar elevations in 2003. Readers of our syndicated newspaper column alerted us to rising blood sugar levels after they took atorvastatin. Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD, of the University of California, San Diego, confirmed our concerns. You can read about them at this link.

What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About the Statin and Diabetes Connection

We were criticized by some physicians for even mentioning that statins might raise blood glucose levels. It seemed as if this was a third-rail topic. People were supposed to take their statins and not worry.

The JUPITER Boomerang:

When the cholesterol-lowering drug rosuvastatin (Crestor) was associated with type 2 diabetes in the JUPITER trial, many cardiologists were skeptical (New England Journal of Medicine, Nov. 8, 2008).  Even the researchers who conducted the trial seemed to downplay the idea that statins cause diabetes. There was no mention in the all-important conclusions that there was a connection between rosuvastatin and diabetes.

It seemed counterintuitive that a drug to reduce the risk for heart disease would raise the risk for diabetes. After all, diabetes carries cardiovascular risks of its own. People who have this metabolic disorder are at greater risks for heart attacks and strokes.

Downplaying the Idea that Statins Cause Diabetes:

When doctors discussed the statin-diabetes connection it was often made to seem like an almost trivial problem. One cardiologist described it this way (Heart Views, Jul-Sept, 2011): 

“On March 3, 2012, the FDA announced changes to the safety information on the labels of statins: there is a small increased risk of higher blood sugar levels and of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. In addition, the statin labels will also now reflect reports of certain cognitive effects such as memory loss and confusion experienced by some patients taking the drugs. The announcement said the risk was ‘small’ and should not materially affect the use of these medications.”

The FDA itself downplays the risk (“Controlling Cholesterol with Statins”): 

“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.”

That comes from James P. Smith, M.D., M.S., deputy director of the Division of Metabolism and Endocrinology at the FDA.

New Research: Do Statins Cause Diabetes?

Now, research on more than 8,500 adults confirms the connection between statins and blood sugar elevations (British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, March 5, 2019). The participants were healthy, without diabetes or heart disease, when the study started.

In the subsequent 15 years, about 12 percent of them started taking statins to control their cholesterol. In addition, 716 of them were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Statistical analysis reveals that those taking statins were 38 percent more likely to earn a diabetes diagnosis.

The risk was especially pronounced among heavier individuals and in those with poor glucose tolerance. The researchers conclude:

“Individuals using statins may be at higher risk for hyperglycaemia, insulin resistance and eventually type 2 diabetes.”

In the summary of their results, the authors share these important observations:

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first detailed population‐based study to show the effect of statin use on incident type 2 diabetes in those free from diabetes at baseline. At baseline, statin use was associated with elevated values for several glycaemic traits. After excluding these baseline statin users, new ever statin users during a follow‐up of up to 15 years showed a 38% increased risk of incident type 2 diabetes independent of statin type and dosage.”

People’s Pharmacy Perspective:

We have discussed our concerns that statins cause diabetes in this article:

Statins and Diabetes | What Happens When Blood Sugar Rises?

Most people have a hard time imagining that a medicine that is supposed to reduce their risks of serious health problems might actually cause other serious health problems. It all seems quite abstract. Should you wish to read about peoples’ experiences with statins and blood sugar elevations, here is a link.

New Statin Study Confirms Scary Link to Diabetes

We recognize that many people may absolutely need to take a statin to prevent a second heart attack. If these individuals do not experience any side effects, that is absolutely great. For people without any signs of heart disease, though, statin-induced diabetes is cause for concern. The moral of this tale is that statin-users should monitor their blood sugar quite carefully!

Share your own story below in the comment section below. If you have been able to take statins without experiencing any side effects we would also like to hear from you.

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  1. David
    London UK
    Reply

    I am a previously active 72 year old living in China most of the year, and a close friend is a doctor at the local hospital. I take a blood test every couple of months to monitor my lipid levels. After a stent implant in November 2018, I took Lipitor for 5 months and endured the muscle aches and cognitive impairment. After a small hernia, a torn knee ligament, and severe memory loss enough was enough. I stopped taking Lipitor, studied the biochemistry of cholesterol, ubiquinone and dolichols and found that statins were killing me one cell at a time.

    You should read Stephanie Seneff and Dr. Malcom Kendrick among others. I gave up Lipitor a month ago, and I am on the road to recovery. I am just starting to believe I can get back to full health. On explaining how statins work to my doctor he apologised profusely owning up to not looking at the biochemistry since his first year at university. Most doctors know little about the mevalonate pathway and the importance of maintaining a normal cholesterol level. The damage statins do is horrific. It may take time but they will kill you. Give up statins, stay on low dose aspirin and with some work on your diet and exercise routine you will have a longer and happier life. When you feel better you can go and politely tell your doctor where he or she can put this overpriced mentally and physically crippling drug and that they have some reading to do.

  2. Linda
    Sun Prairie, WI
    Reply

    I wonder how many people endure terrible side effects from statins; how many people with low LDL die of heart issues; how many people with high LDL who refuse statin treatment live just as long as, or longer than, those with low LDL; how much suffering statins cause with medical practitioners denying it?

    There is currently a lot of controversy about the cholesterol-heart disease link but the AMA does not seem to recognize even the possibility that their recommendations might be wrong and that the very basis of medicine–first, do no harm–is compromised when they refuse to open their minds to opposing research studies.

    I think of so many health/medical “recommendations” in the past that were proven wrong and/or seriously dangerous, with disastrous results to patients and people in general. At least have the grace and goodness to speak with less assurance, knowing how often they’ve been wrong in the past and how many have suffered as a result of their overconfidence and disinclination to imagine themselves wrong.

    Sometimes the outliers and questioners among us provide valuable information and can lead us in a different but possibly more illuminating direction, even if it’s contrary to the hard and fast directives of organizations that purport to know all and have only our health in mind.

  3. John
    VA
    Reply

    Hello,
    I wonder whether you could provide some actual numbers from the study.
    What was the actual number of individuals in the study?
    What was the actual number of individuals who started taking a statin?
    (I will assume that the number of individuals who did not take a statin is the total number of individuals, minus the number who started taking a statin.)
    What was the actual number of individuals who took a statin and developed type 2 diabetes?
    What was the actual number of individuals who did not take a statin and developed type 2 diabetes?
    Thank you.

  4. shelley
    california
    Reply

    I brought this subject up to my VA doctor, and she just poo-poo’ed it. I understand that the statin Livalo does not affect glucose levels like the others do, should I push a change to Livalo from Lipitor? My sugar is well-managed currently with metformin.

  5. rosemary s.
    austin
    Reply

    I take red yeast rice. Will that cause diabetes like statins can?

  6. Teresa
    Pennsylvania
    Reply

    My 88 year old mother was prescribed Lipitor by family physician about 10 years ago and subsequently became a type 2 diabetic. She got off of it after reading your article about it causing diabetes. She never had a heart attach but now she has to deal with diabetes in her old age. These drugs are dangerous and should never be prescribed just for prevention purposes. They can cause diabetes.

  7. Jerald C.
    Atlanta, GEORGIA
    Reply

    I was prescribed statin to lower an LDL of 150 back in 1999. Within 48 hours I developed rahbdomyelosis. A Primary MD I went to to see if we could work together said to take 150 mg of CoQ10, and it would resolve. I was already taking 1200 of CoQ10 daily for muscle pain associated with my PD. This simply pissed him off, and I was expediently sent out of his office practice.
    Since there are very few studies that actually prove that Statins ACTUALLY prevent heart disease I’m just not going to listen to these doctors. If I die from a cardiac episode, so be it.

  8. Gail
    Florida
    Reply

    I have taken statins for years. I am a type 2 diabetic. As I have grown older the statins have really hurt my upper arm muscles and my hip muscles. I found this out quite by accident. One night I forgot to take my statin. The next day my arms were not hurting. Also, my hip muscles were not aching.

  9. Debbie
    Tx
    Reply

    I have been taking Crestor for 14 years. Last month I went to my Dr and she said I am prediabetic. I am overweight and I eat a lot of sugar. I am working on that but now this has me wondering. Do I stop my statin? I sure don’t want to deal with diabetes!

  10. Marilyn Bartlett
    GA
    Reply

    To Craig, There is not a picture of Pravastatin above. Only Simvastatin, Crestor and Lipitor are pictured above. I am not sure where you get your information from, but I don’t believe statins reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s. I quit taking statin drugs many years ago because I have read that most people that have heart attacks have normal cholesterol.

  11. Kat
    Florida
    Reply

    I stopped statins after 18 years (for a number of reasons), and I have seen much improvement in my overall health and well-being. My bones and joints have stopped hurting all the time, which I had attributed to a number of reasons (age 70, bad knees, caregiving). I now have more energy, and during my last full body massage, which I had started monthly because of my aches and pains, I had NO hotspots anywhere, which has never happened. On my last doctor’s visit my BP was 120/72 (no meds), with heart rate of 64. I’m using more natural ways to regulate cholesterol and have lost weight over the last year, but will never go back on statins.

  12. Luke
    Florida
    Reply

    Most diabetics have high cholesterol (low HDL and high triglycerides) as part of their disease; this common condition is called diabetic dyslipidemia. So think again.

  13. Jaime
    Illinois
    Reply

    My doc says even if taking a statin increases risk of developing T2 Diabetes, since I already have the diagnosis, he treats me as if I had had a heart attack and prescribes one. I don’t tell him that I don’t take it.

  14. Chris
    Wisconsin
    Reply

    I was on 20 mg/day of Lipitor for 12 years following placement of a cardiac stent and tolerated it well, although I do think my memory was affected somewhat. Then I had to stop taking estrogen after a breast cancer diagnosis and my LDL went up, despite the statin. My current cardiologist doubled my statin dose, but it turned out that that dose was incompatible with another med I have taken for years that more than triples the availability of the statin (which I learned by doing some reading on my own). After a couple of months with increasing leg pain, I had a terrible crisis of muscle weakness all over my body and I stopped taking the statins. After two months, I’m still having problems so I refused the cardiologist’s push to start taking atorvastatin again. He then wanted to switch me to rosuvastatin, but I refused because I’d been warned by my former long-time cardiologist that it can cause irreversible diabetes and my mother’s family had a very strong history of diabetes. The current cardiologist tried to convince me it wouldn’t be irreversible. When I told him I’d been warned by my former cardiologist, this current doc said I’d probably end up with diabetes anyway, given my family history, so what difference would it make if I got it sooner. He then said he thought I should just have my primary care doctor provide ongoing care instead of coming back to him, which I view as a “soft” expulsion from his practice. I’m fine with that because I had no plans to continue with him after his casual response to my muscle problems and my new concerns that he wouldn’t necessarily be honest with me about medications in the future.

  15. Alex
    MA
    Reply

    I am on 20mg Atorvastatin, my Cholestrol is 137. My glucose numbers have
    been slowly rising over the years,as of 10-29-18, 109. Family history of
    diabetes.

  16. Stephanie
    Missouri
    Reply

    Please include absolute risks not just relative. And make more clear who the results do not apply to, aka, people of good BMI, etc.

  17. Michael
    NW Washington
    Reply

    Interesting that statins are also thought to induce neuropathy, which is another possible consequence of diabetes. I had mild peripheral neuropathy for many years, but with an A1c of only 6.1, they didn’t want to blame it on diabetes, so called it idiopathic. Through diet and exercise I got my A1c down to 5.7, but 12 years later, after 5 months on Rosuvastatin, the IPN blew up to become “severe axonal sensorimotor peripheral polyneuropathy of indeterminate origin.” I’m now off statins forever, but with severe disability. So far all the medical profession can offer is physical therapy.

  18. Louise
    Wisconsin
    Reply

    I got type 2 diabetes after taking high doses of crestor for over 3 years

  19. Mike
    Raleigh, NC
    Reply

    At age 50 I was put on Lipitor for mildly elevated cholesterol, mainly because of a paternal family history of heart disease. I did not tolerate it well and had muscle aches in my legs however it did bring my numbers to where my Doctor thought they should be. I’ve been a lifelong runner, gym rat and I stopped eating red meat and pork in high school. With my family history, I took heart health seriously, exercised daily and kept my weight down. I didn’t think twice about taking the wonder drug and in spite of some annoying muscle aches (which my pharmacist said I should just embrace) statins worked as promised for me.

    Fast forward 5 years. Out of nowhere, my routine annual physical showed elevated blood glucose and an A1c of 10. Not only was I shocked but so was my doctor! My maternal grandmother had T1 as does my nephew and a few cousins and my paternal grandmother had T2 so he blamed it on heredity and said I’d probably delayed the onset for years because of my diet and exercise habits. I was sent to an Endocrinologist and I was initially put on Lantus – which caused lots of hypo incidents plus I gained 10 pounds.

    After a year I found a new Endocrinologist who immediately took me off of Lantus and put me on Metformin. I lost the extra weight quickly and the incidence of hypos dropped dramatically. My A1c has been between 5.5 and 6.2 in the 5 years since. I asked my doctor about the Statin connection and she said there was evidence of it but my risk indicators for heart disease and now T2 made it imperative for me to stay on them. She admitted it was a double edged sword but that both my T2 and my cholesterol were well controlled on my current regimen.

    My question is, would my insulin resistance improve if I stopped taking statins (which do clearly work for me) and are there non-statin drugs that I could use to maintain my cholesterol, HDL and LDL levels wthout the side effects?

    • The People's Pharmacy
      Reply

      Mike, there are other cholesterol-lowering drugs, but statins are really the gold standard for this. Your situation can only be addressed by you and your doctor, not by anyone else.

  20. Rebecca
    Logan, WV
    Reply

    My general practitioner and endocrinologist BOTH prescribed statins as a preventative measure after I was diagnosed with Type 2. After experiencing muscle pain and performing my own independent research, I advised both docs I was discontinuing. My endo was appalled and came close to discharging me as her patient. In light of the most recent and valid findings, I am appalled at my endo’s insistence especially since early suspicions were already appearing in the medical literature.
    The pharmaceutical industry has one hell of an ugly head!
    P.S. I did not continue with statins but changed endocrinologist!

  21. Craig Pursuit
    Manhattan Beach California
    Reply

    You are showing a photograph of Pravastatin but mentioning nothing of it. Historically, it lowers your chances 30% of developing diabetes! For many people, statins will save their lives including preventing Alzheimer’s. Please make a notation of that for your readers

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