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.