Statins and Diabetes Risk: What You Need to Know
What Are Statins?
Statins are a type of drug prescribed to patients with high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is known as “bad” cholesterol because it deposits fatty particles on the arterial walls of the heart and brain as it travels through the blood. Over time, plaque builds up in the arteries, causing a blockage that can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Your total cholesterol number is made up of three blood cholesterol numbers:
- high-density lipoprotein (HDL)
- triglycerides (fats in your blood)
Statins work by blocking a substance needed to make LDL cholesterol in the liver.
FDA’s New Statin Safety Warning
In February 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned health providers and consumers that the use of statins may increase a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
This announcement isn’t meant to urge all people to stop taking statins. The FDA still believes in the benefits of statins, but advises doctors prescribing these drugs to monitor their patients’ blood sugar levels as a precaution.
Statins and Diabetes Risk
Statins are usually safe and provide many benefits. As with many drugs, you and your doctor must weigh the pros and cons of taking a statin drug. Recent reports show that statin use does increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
In one study, diabetes was diagnosed in 27 percent more patients taking a statin than in those not taking one. But some people who developed diabetes after taking a statin were already at high risk for developing diabetes due to obesity and family history.
What Is Type 2 Diabetes?
Type 2 diabetes is a chronic disorder caused by the body’s inability to properly use or make enough insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas to help deliver sugar (glucose) to cells for energy.
When you eat, your body breaks down food into glucose. Your pancreas releases insulin to help transport glucose from the blood to cells for energy.
The body doesn’t respond correctly to insulin in people with type 2 diabetes. As a result, blood sugar doesn’t get to the cells. When sugar can’t enter cells, sugar builds up in the blood. This is called hyperglycemia.
Benefits of Statins on the Heart
- 54 percent lower risk of heart attack
- 48 percent lower risk of stroke
- 20 percent lower risk of death from any cause
According to the American College of Cardiology, statins have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol as much as 50 percent.
Other Benefits of Statins
In addition to lowering risk for stroke, heart attack, and death in general, statins help:
- reduce inflammation
- improve the health of the lining of blood vessels
- reduce the risk of blood clots
Do Statins Make Diabetes Worse?
The American Heart Association (AHA), suggests that there isn’t enough data to support discontinuing statins if you have diabetes. In fact, plenty of clinical data shows that patients with diabetes benefit greatly from statin therapy to prevent heart disease.
Further, the effect of statins on glucose is relatively insignificant. Therefore, the risk of diabetes worsening while taking a statin is small.
Talk to Your Doctor
According to the Mayo Clinic, while there is a link between type 2 diabetes and statin use for patients with heart disease or a history of heart attack, the benefits of taking a statin drug outweigh the risks.
If you take statins and are concerned about your risks for developing type 2 diabetes, talk to your doctor. Your doctor will discuss the different types of statin drugs available as well as dosages.
- Diabetes Basics: Facts About Type 2. (n.d.). American Diabetes Association. Retrieved December 3, 2013 from http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/type-2/facts-about-type-2.html
- FDA Expands Advice on Statin Risks. (2013, November 15). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved December 3, 2013 from http://www.fda.gov/forconsumers/consumerupdates/ucm293330.htm
- Getting a Grasp of the Guidelines. (2013, December 6). American College of Cardiology. Retrieved January 8, 2014, from http://www.cardiosource.org/News-Media/Publications/Cardiology-Magazine/2013/12/Getting-a-Grasp-of-the-Guidelines.aspx
- Rocco, M. (2012). Statins and diabetes risk: Fact, fiction, and clinical implications. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. Retrieved December 3, 2013 from http://www.ccjm.org/content/79/12/883.full
- Shah, R. et al. (2012). Statins and Risk of New-Onset Diabetes Mellitus. American Heart Association. Retrieved December 3, 2013 from http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/126/18/e282.full
- Statin Medications and Heart Disease. (2012, December). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved December 3, 2013 from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/cholesterol/statin-medications-and-heart-disease.aspx
- Statins: Are these cholesterol-lowering drugs right for you? (2012, March 13). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 3, 2013 from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/statins/CL00010
- Type 2 Diabetes. (2013, June 18). U.S. National Libraray of Medicine. Retrieved December 3, 2013 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001356/