Statins linked to higher diabetes risk: Study

While many over-60s take statins to lower cholesterol and prevent the risk of heart disease, new research has found it could also increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Source: Getty

The effectiveness of statins has long divided the medical world. While some health professionals think it’s a great medication, others aren’t sure how beneficial to health the cholesterol-lowering drugs are.

The purpose of the medication is to lower levels of LDL cholesterol (known as ‘bad’ cholesterol) which can lower the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other health problems associated with cardiovascular disease. While many people continue to use the drugs without side effects, new research has linked the use of statins to a higher diabetes risk.

The study, published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology by researchers from the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands, claimed taking statins could increase the risk of developing high blood sugar levels, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

For the study, researchers analysed the medical histories of 9,535 people over the age 45 for 15 years at the start of the population-based Rotterdam study. The people were initially free of diabetes but researchers discovered those on statins were 38 per cent more likely to develop diabetes during the study.

In fact, patients who used statins tended to have higher concentrations of serum fasting insulin and insulin resistance compared to participants who never used statins. Researchers also observed that the risk of developing diabetes was greater in people with impaired glucose balance and those who were overweight and obese.

“The findings suggest that in patients who initiate statin therapy, preventive strategies such as blood sugar control and weight loss may be warranted for minimising the risk of diabetes,” Senior Author Bruno Stricker said in a statement.

While keeping cholesterol levels low is important for health, diabetes is also a growing chronic condition which comes with its own health risks including, blindness, heart disease and increased risk of stroke.

It’s not the first time statins have been linked to diabetes. A 2017 study conducted by Researchers from the University of Queensland studied women aged 75 and over and found that those taking statins were 33 per cent more likely to develop diabetes. That research team focussed on women over 75 because they had been largely ignored in past studies on statins and concluded there was a definite link between the medication and diabetes for this age group.

Read more: Link found between statins and common disease

Authors of that study explained that side effects of statins often depend on individuals.

“If the patient is at low risk of a cardiovascular event then the bad may potentially outweigh the good,” lead author Dr Mark Jones said at the time. “Conversely if the patient is at high risk of a cardiovascular event then the good may potentially outweigh the bad.”

Meanwhile, Australian Integrative Cardiologist Jason Kaplan recently told Starts at 60 that despite studies out there, the benefits often outweigh the risks for many people who use statins.

“On a whole, we’ve had over 30 years of experience in using statins and for the most part, we see very little side effects on statins for the people who need them the most,” Kaplan explained. “That’s the key question here. The people who stand to benefit most from the cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins are the people who are in the higher risk categories.”

Read more: Expert answers: The safety of statins and who should be using them

It’s always important to talk to a GP or health professional about using statins and to ensure the medication is right for individual needs.

Do you use statins? What are your thoughts on the latest research?

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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