The People's Perspective on Medicine

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

It came as a shock to many cardiologists to learn statins could raise blood sugar or cause diabetes. Many still don't warn patients about this side effect.

Q. What is the relationship between long-term statin use (specifically atorvastatin) and adult-onset type 2 diabetes? Lipitor was prescribed for me in 1998 and has successfully lowered my cholesterol.

In the past year my blood sugar went up substantially, and I’ve experienced preliminary symptoms of diabetes. I have no risk factors: my weight is normal and I walk at least two miles a day with additional daily weight-bearing exercise. I have no family history of diabetes.

My diet is primarily Mediterranean because I’m married to a Sicilian. It’s a little high in carbs but low in red meat and high in seafood and plant proteins.

I’ve stopped taking the statin. Will my metabolism return to normal?

The Statin and Diabetes Connection

A. In 2003 we started getting questions from readers about elevated blood sugar as a side effect of Lipitor. One of the first questions was the following (published in our syndicated newspaper column on 1/20/2003):

“Recently, our physician prescribed Lipitor for my husband and myself. We both have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. We both take Glyburide and my husband takes Avandia as well.

“Since we started on Lipitor, our blood sugar has been rising rapidly. My husband asked the doctor about changing to Tricor, but he was told it would not help him much and he should stay with Lipitor. It seems that Lipitor is affecting our blood sugar. Is this possible?”

We contacted University of California, San Diego, statin researcher Beatrice Golomb, MD, PhD. Dr. Golomb responded:

“There are two studies that have shown unexpected significant increases in blood sugar or in hemoglobin A1C (which is an index of blood sugar over time) with statin use. Though increases are modest on average, some people appear to experience more considerable increases.”

We encouraged this reader and her husband to let the doctor know there was a statin and diabetes connection; that atorvastatin, as well as other statin-type cholesterol-lowering drugs (lovastatin, pravastatin, simvastatin, etc.) could increase blood sugar. We also invited readers to share their stories with us.

We began hearing from others who either developed diabetes after taking a statin or had more difficulty controlling blood sugar once a statin was on board. Most physicians were unaware that this was a possibility.

Some got really angry that we had written about a statin and diabetes connection. They felt that we were planting a seed of doubt about the benefits of statins with no proof that drugs like atorvastatin or simvastatin raised blood glucose levels.

The JUPITOR Proof:

It wasn’t until the JUPITER (Justification for the Use of Statins in Primary Prevention: An Intervention Trial Evaluating Rosuvastatin trial) study was published in 2008 that a clear connection was established between statins and diabetes (New England Journal of Medicine, Nov. 20, 2008). Even though the authors did not mention this complication in their enthusiastic support for Crestor (rosuvastatin) in the conclusion section of the paper, they did describe the statin and diabetes connection in the results and discussion section.

This was the first real proof that statins raised blood sugar levels in some patients. Even after this study was published in a reputable journal, many statin enthusiasts were reluctant to accept the finding. They insisted it was coincidental. For those that did accept the data, many were quick to insist that even if statins did trigger diabetes or raise blood sugar, the benefits of the drugs far outweighed the risks of diabetes.

More Evidence:

Since then, other studies have reinforced the statin-diabetes connection. An article in Diabetologia (May, 2015) confirmed this risk:

Finnish men taking a statin were 46 percent more likely to be diagnosed later with type 2 diabetes than those not on such a cholesterol-lowering drug.

Statin Takers Figured This Out Long Ago:

January 12, 2009:

Q. I was put on Lipitor to control cholesterol and found it shot my blood sugar through the roof. My doctor suggested switching to Crestor. Would this drug also affect blood sugar?

A. You are not the first person to note that some cholesterol-lowering medicines might raise blood sugar levels. Another reader reported that after taking Crestor, his type 2 diabetes numbers also “went through the roof.” In addition, he reported: “my hands, feet and arms tingled so much I could hardly stand it.”

February 15, 2010:

“I have been taking Crestor. It lowered my cholesterol very well, but my blood sugar went out of control. My HbA1c went from 6.8 to 7.3 in just a short while, and my morning blood glucose numbers went from 110 – 130 to 161 – 217.

“I stopped taking Crestor a few days ago and my numbers are already starting to drop. This morning the reading was 144 and my mid-morning blood sugar was only 96 instead of in the low 200s.”

The Bottom Line:

Cardiologists who downplay the importance of the statin and diabetes connection confound us. People who have elevated blood sugar levels are at greater risk of heart attacks and strokes, the very things statins are supposed to prevent. Why would you want to increase the risk of developing diabetes or making it worse with a medication?

With your healthy lifestyle, you may be able to reverse this trend. At this time there is not a lot of research on how long it takes, but we have heard from people like the reader above that blood glucose can move back towards the normal range. Cut back on carbs and keep up the exercise.

You’ll learn more about controlling cholesterol and blood sugar with and without drugs in Best Choices From The People’s Pharmacy (available at PeoplesPharmacy.com).

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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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Started taking Zocor at least 15 years ago. It upset my stomach. Switched to generic Lipitor when it became available just 10 mg. Was thinking that pains in my arms and legs was either weather- related or arthritis, started taking an Aleve. For the last year my A1C was 6.0-6.1, pre-diabetic, currently cholesterol is in the low 200s. Stopped taking cholesterol medicine about four weeks ago; leg pain has stopped. Feeling so much better.

Just saw my doctor yesterday and told him I had gotten off my statins several months ago due to extreme muscle cramping and pains. I also mentioned that I was fearful of them because of they cause diabetes. He looked at me and said ” You don’t have enough information.” He then proceeded to tell me that he does not have high cholesterol but takes statins anyway to reduce the risk of heart attack. He has a family history of heart disease. However, women are not protected from heart attack, but statins will protect women from strokes. I am a 73 year old woman, and I take levothyroxine for thyroid disease. I have been eating more nuts, olive oil, beans and whole grains. Had my blood tested and am waiting for results. He really wants me back on statins if my numbers come back high. I don’t know what to do!!

If statins cause diabetes, what should do to lower my cholesterol and triglycerides?

A few years ago I applied for a term life insurance policy on myself after being involuntarily retired from my job of 22 years. A medical exam was required. I knew my cholesterol had been high but I had started taking Simvastatin despite some side effects. To my surprise, the insurance company contacted me and informed me that my A1C was at a pre-diabetic level and I would need to pay a 50% higher premium. I had never had a problem with my blood sugar level in the past. I told the insurance company to forget it and accused them of manufacturing reasons to increase the premium.

I quit taking Simvastatin. Then in 2016 I had some weird pains (no chest pain) while visiting relatives in Ohio. I wound up staying there a month longer than expected after undergoing a quadruple bypass. After that the doctors were anxious to get me back on the statins. I really like my current doctor so I agreed to try the smallest dose of Crestor (I split the dose and have only been taking 5mg instead of 10). Last week we reviewed the results of my blood tests. Guess what? Yeah, I’m pre-diabetic again. When I had my surgery my blood glucose and A1C were fine.

I just stopped crestor after a year of taking it. I have such leg cramps it is dibilating and it has kept my blood sugar levels raised. I just stopped it two nights ago and am hoping the effects I feel aren’t permanent!

I Have Diagnosis with diabetis Type. 2 already have diabetis when Dr. precriove statin but was able to take only for one month becouse gave problems with the liver enzymes came hig and my liver start to got upset since them never put me on other type of medicine relate to colesterol

Thaks to the people whos share their sperience. I belived that some type of drugs make more harms that good and also we have the right to know what are we put in our body, regarding others people oppinions

One agains thak you

I had a Heart attack in 2006. My doctor put me on Lipitor. Three months later I was diagnosed Pre-Diabetic! My doctors can’t tell me how much my blood sugars will rise because of Lipitor. I stopped taking Lipitor and within three months my Blood sugars returned to between 99 and 110! That’s my proof!

My Dr. recently diagnosed me as prediabetic; I took simvastatin for 6 years–2005-2011. Wondering if that’s the connection, because I don’t eat sweets, and eat a heavily vegetable diet, etc. Is that the long tem affect?

After years of taking statins, my blood sugar and glucose levels are high enough that my Doctors say I’m a Type II diabetic. They wanted me to go on Metfomin which I strongly declined because of the side effects. There is no history of diabetes in my family and I’m completely convinced that it’s the statins that caused it. I’ve gone from 10mg of Crestor to 5mgand am weaning myself off of that.

I posted this once before but the Graedons did not put it up. Just because you are on a statin and your glucose rises, it’s hard to know if it’s from the statin. A kin to what Michael stated above above, coincidental lifestyle changes as one ages can also enter the equation. You’re fifty pounds heavier that when you were twenty, like to drink, smoke eat fast food,carbs, and sugar.

Only way you are going to find out is to go off statin for like 45 days and recheck your levels. I did this and my cholesterol went from 180 to 280 and my glucose and A1c did not change. Another factor that can muddy the water is the statin dose. Some docs when asked about the link say they have heard about it but not sure(dont know) if that link is in play on lose dose statin(eg., 20mg).

When I was 41, I had my first blood work done. I was skinny and physically active. My cholesterol was 355. When I was 65, my cholesterol was 306. I went on Lipitor, then Lovistatin. Both drugs hurt my back and leg muscles. Got off the statins, and then I was fine.

I saw my Doctor just last week. He told my husband and I to stay away from statin drugs, as they are finding out now, that older folk’s brains need cholesterol to keep their memory intact. I also had a panic attack a few years ago, and thought it was my heart. At the hospital, after a chemical EKG with a sonogram being done, I was told by the Cardiologist that I had the best heart he’d seen for a lady my age. I was 67 and my cholesterol was 326. He told me that my arteries were as clean as a whistle. The brain is mostly fat, and needs cholesterol to keep us from becoming senile. Please read Dr. Perlmutter’s book, The Grain Brain. It’ll open your eyes!

Could it be that the epidemic of diabetes in the U.S. could be partly blamed on the wide use of statins? It’s been several years since I took a statin. The side affects for me were terrible. The muscle pain I experienced was debilitating. When I was on Crestor, my arms hurt so bad that I would groan every time I needed to lift something. Statins also caused muscle damage in my head. The pain has eased but is still there and can flare up at any time. The medical profession refuses to address the serious side affects of statins.

Since diabetes and high cholesterol share causal behavior (poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, etc.), I wonder if the statin/diabetes link is coincidental.

I would like to know if Red Yeast Rice , which is a natural form of statin, could cause a blood sugar rise like the prescribed statins?

Did any one ever try ZETIA, Cholesterol lowering drug ?
My niece takes this, and so far it does not effect her !

When I became prediabetic 6 years ago, I was also on statins. I would ask my doctors, pharmacy if there was a connection and everyone would say they didn’t know. I work hard to keep my sugars down, and have tingling ceet. No more statins for me!

The same experience as myself. I was on crestor, and my blood sugar was always under 100. When Anthem decided they were not going go pay for Crestor, I had to go on generic Lipitor. Well in 3 months my blood sugar was over 180 in the mornings. I asked my doctor if there was a connection, and he said no. Now I am on diabetes medicine which is causing some minor problems, which means more drugs. No, thanks.

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