The People's Perspective on Medicine

Statins Make Diabetes More Likely

The evidence continues to mount that statin-type cholesterol-lowering drugs prescribed to prevent heart disease may spur the onset of type 2 diabetes. The latest research comes from the Women’s Health Initiative, an enormous study of more than 150,000 postmenopausal women that began in the mid 1990s. In the decade between the start of the study and 2005, more than 10,000 of these women developed diabetes. The researchers calculate that women taking statin drugs such as atorvastatin (Lipitor), rosuvastatin (Crestor) and simvastatin (Zocor) were 48 percent more likely to be diagnosed with this metabolic condition. The study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

This is not the first time statin drugs have been linked to a higher risk of diabetes. The first clear scientific indication of a connection came in 2008 from the JUPITER trial of 17,000 healthy people who took either Crestor or placebo for two years. While the volunteers taking Crestor had fewer heart attacks and other cardiovascular events, they were also more likely to be diagnosed by their doctors with diabetes.

Doctors were somewhat reluctant to believe that the risk was real, but in April, 2011, researchers reviewed data from three different statin studies and published the findings in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Subjects taking atorvastatin (Lipitor) were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, especially if they already had risk factors for the disease such as excess weight, high triglycerides and high blood sugar.

Then in June, 2011, a report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people on high-dose statin therapy had a greater risk of developing new-onset diabetes compared with those on more moderate doses.

Long before any of these studies were published, however, we were hearing from readers that they suspected a statin-diabetes connection. More than a decade ago we received this comment:

“I am a type 2 diabetes patient who takes 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.”

Many other visitors to our website have also reported difficulty controlling their blood sugar after being put on a statin-type drug. Others didn’t have diabetes before taking starting a statin:

“I had been on statins for a number of years when my doc said I had type 2 diabetes. No one else in my family ever had diabetes nor took statins. At the start of this year, the pain and weakness in my legs was so bad that the doctor had blood tests done. They came back fine and he told me not to worry about it and I would soon feel better.

“I immediately stopped the statin and a couple of weeks later I did feel much better. When I next went for a diabetic check, it was fine. I told my doctor I had stopped the statin and wouldn’t be taking any more. I have since read that statins can cause blood sugar levels to rise.”

Cathy, July 31, 2011

We do not suggest that anyone stop taking a statin without consulting the prescribing physician. Nevertheless, the new data from the Women’s Health Initiative and other studies confirms what readers of The People’s Pharmacy have been saying for many years. If you would like to read their stories, here are some links:

Statins do save lives after someone has had a heart attack or is diagnosed with obvious heart disease. It is not clear, however, that statins prevent heart attacks in people who are otherwise healthy but merely have high cholesterol. Given the data about diabetes and the admonition to “first do no harm,” we suggest that physicians consider other ways for patients without heart disease to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attacks. We offer many non-drug approaches in our book, Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy. When alternative approaches fail, we also discuss our preferred medications for lowering cholesterol. There is a chapter on diabetes with both non-drug approaches for controlling blood sugar and a frank discussion of the benefits and risks of various medications. We hope you find Best Choices a useful addition to your health library.

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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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Both paternal grandparents died from complications of diabetes. I have been on three different statins with numerous side affects… am now on crestor at 10 mg which I cut in half and take one every other day. I have reduced this myself: my labs have not changed. I tend to think a lot of pills that do not have lower dosages are deliberately set by the drug companies to make more money. My Dr. has been told about this and has said nothing about the reduction of my dosage so I continue. I am contemplating reducing it further to taking the 5 mg just 3 times a week and then see what my labs show.
The last year or so I have been running a “borderline” a1c and am now being reviewed for “diabetic” medication (pills). Should I stop the crestor for awhile? I looked back at my labs (I keep records that go back for years) and noted that my sugar was just fine until I started on the cholesterol drugs.
I do agree, that none of the research, so far, has been done on double-blinded tests.

I have been taking Lipitor for over 20 years to keep my genetically high cholesterol down. It worked, until 2 years ago I started getting what they call TGA’a (Trans Global Amnesia) which left me in a state of almost stupefying confusion when I couldn’t even report the year or my own address. They lasted for from 2 to 4 hours. A few months ago after just enduring another TGA, I read where statins have been oft reported to cause confusion and TGA’s!
I stopped Lipitor 2 months ago and haven’t yet had my blood tested for my cholesterol, but I haven’t had any TGA symptoms since. I read recently that all statins now will have to carry the warning of periods of confusion, etc. I am taking turmeric capsules, and I’m considering starting controlled-release niacin as well to lower my genetically high bad cholesterol (LDL). If anyone has any other natural substances that assist in lowering cholesterol, I’d love to hear about them. Thanks in advance.

I am on crestor and notice that my memory is getting slower then it use to be, harder to get the words out, knowing what I want to say, is very difficult for me. I have been on lipitor and a few others, but the ache in my arms was to much to handle, so with crestor I don’t have any problems with muscle aches. I also was on niacin and the first night with this med, I thought my scalp was on fire. This really scared me, so I was taken off this one. All meds scare me.

After years of being over weight but generally healthy I had a small heart attack. I was told it was nothing to be concerned about but I was put on Lipitor AND Crestor. Less than a year later I was diagnosed as diabetic. In short order I was progressed through pills to insulin and now twice a day. I am presently only taking 10 mg of Crestor. So I’m wondering if I could discontinue the Crestor and become non-diabetic again. I’d love to get off the needle.

My husband’s doctor had him take statins because his cholesterol was “too high.” After being on them for approx. two months he could not walk without assistance, his personality was changed in that he was in a rage much of the time without cause, and he was unable to have an erection.
He went to another doctor who said that it was common for British people to have high cholesterol, naturally, and to not take statins. He weaned himself off of them, which took a few months, and now is perfectly fine. It makes we wonder how many other people who are taking statins may be involved in acts of aggression or suicide, due to reactions from these statins. It would be interesting if a study were done to see how many people were on statins that committed murder or suicide. Just my opinion.

I have been taking Red Yeast Rice for about 7 years. Does this pose the same risk as Lipitor regarding Adult-Onset Diabetes? So far, my blood-sugar is normal.
People’s Pharmacy response: It is reasonable to assume that there is some elevated risk, but because it has not been studied, we don’t know whether it is the same, higher or (more likely) lower than that with Lipitor.

My cholesterol levels have been in he 220s, which is too high for my doctor, even though my HDL is consistently at or over 100. To avoid taking pharmaceutical statins, I have been taking red yeast rice, which is quite effective for me. Should I consider stopping the supplement???
People’s Pharmacy response: We don’t know; the increased risk of diabetes is probably quite modest, but the benefits of lowering a cholesterol of 220 (especially when your total cholesterol/HDL ratio is so amazing) are also probably limited. Do talk this over with your physician.

I called my doctor who is on top of his research in internal meds and family practice. This is what he said to me:
“This was an observational study and not a prospective trial. Very slim evidence and makes a nice “filler” news article but certainly not evidence of a causal relationship. Nevertheless, interesting and thanks for thinking of me in sending it….folks with obesity often have high cholesterol and thus are put on statins….is the statin causing the diabetes or is the obesity??…not addressed in the observational study.”
In conclusion there are many studies which are later discredited. The best advice is to talk to your doctor and then follow the advice which is tailored to you and your condition.

Does this link to increased risk of type 2 diabetes hold true for red rice yeast also since it is a natural statin?

The bad news about statin drug side effects only increases. I had read the first adverse reports some years ago and refused to take statin drugs when prescribed by the VA. Four years later I am still functioning pretty well–and believe part of that is abstaining from statins.

This is interesting news, but cause and effect has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. People who take statins tend to be people who pay attention to their health indicators such as blood sugar levels and serum cholesterol levels. Therefore they are much more likely to be taking statins while, at the same time, monitoring and controlling their blood glucose levels. Doing both of these things, a person is bound to connect changes in one with changes in the other, but is A causing B? Is B causing A? Is neither one causing the other? Only double blind testing can give a reliable answer.

My husband is on simvastatin (8 yrs). Is he also a candidate for type 2 diabetes?

If I knew the base, the 48% increase might have some meaning. If the incidence goes from 1 in a million to 2 in a million thats a 100% increase in risk. But should I really worry. Am I missing something here?
You are quite correct to be seeking the absolute risk numbers. Sadly, that information was not readily apparent from the study. Do keep in mind that the absolute risk reduction of heart attacks from a drug like simvastatin is also relatively small.
Several years ago the makers of Lipitor advertised that their drug reduced the risk of having a heart attack by roughly 30 percent. In absolute numbers that means that 3 people out of 100 had a heart attack over a couple of years while taking placebo and 2 people out of 100 had a heart attack while taking Lipitor. That is indeed about a 30 percent reduction, but in absolute terms it is only 1 person out of hundred who did not have a heart attack. So…your point cuts both ways.

I have taken statins for about 20 years for cholesterol in the 400’s. Had bypass surgery when I was 38. Been a type 2 diabetic for at least 12 years. I am wondering if there is a connection.
It is always hard (or even impossible) to retroactively say whether a drug caused a side effect or not. With a cholesterol level of 400 you almost assuredly do need to do something to lower your risk of having a cardiovascular event. What medication you take does require medical involvement.

I simply can’t help but wonder if the food these people were eating was a major factor also. Sometimes people think that a drug will take care of their problem so they can just keep on doing the things they have always done – lots of low quality food, little exercise and the magic pill will make the “numbers” on the tests look okay. We all have this wish in us, since real change is scary sometimes, especially when we don’t really know what to do or do know and don’t want to do it!
Regardless of the health habits or not of the people studied, this does suggest the same big thing to me. Drugs do not cure. Drugs always, always, have side effects (many of them unknown or unreported). Find a better way to health. The information is out there and we can choose health if we really want it. Thank you, People’s Pharmacy, for all the good information you give us.

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