In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration added diabetes as a side effect to all statin drugs due to studies showing an elevated risk of developing the disease. Statins are a group of drugs that are used to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. Since statins are a commonly prescribed drug, it is clear why people may be worried about the risk.
How Are Statins Related to Diabetes?
Some experimental studies have found that statin drugs alter glucose balance by reducing the release of insulin and weakening the body’s sensitivity to it. Statins have the ability to affect metabolites that play a big role in insulin secretion. Insulin helps transport glucose into your cells so it can be used for energy. With lower levels of insulin or lower insulin sensitivity, the glucose levels in the blood become abnormally high. As a result, diabetes develops. Diabetes is characterized by increased levels of glucose in the blood and abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates.
Researchers who have looked at a study of 7,000 men and women, who were an average of 53 years old, have found that 31% percent of the individuals who took statins for 5 years developed diabetes. Out of the individuals who didn’t take the statins, only 19% developed diabetes.
Nonetheless, doctors say this low risk for diabetes outweighs the benefits of the statin drugs on cholesterol levels. Statins have the ability to prevent individuals from experiencing a heart attack or a stroke, so if a need for the drug is determined by a doctor, the small risk of diabetes should not deter you from taking the drug. In fact, statins prevent heart attacks and strokes in three times as many people compared to causing diabetes. There may also be a possibility that the individuals in the studies may have had other factors that led to their development of diabetes. It is not yet known for sure if statins are the sole cause of the increase in the disease.
It has also been found that the specific type of statin can make a difference in the risk of developing diabetes. Simvastatin, atorvastatin, lovastatin, fluvastatin, and pravastatin are more likely to cause diabetes than pravastatin and rosuvastatin due to its lipophilic properties. They are more likely to enter beta cells (where insulin is produced) and adipocytes (which are insulin sensitive).
Statins should only be taken when there is a clear indication that the drug is necessary. If you have a high to moderate risk for heart disease or stroke you shouldn’t avoid taking them. Further measures that can be taken to lower the risk of developing diabetes while on statins include: starting with lower doses, choosing a specific statin that is less likely to cause diabetes (such as pravastatin and rosuvastatin), and screening for type 2 diabetes. It can also be helpful to make some lifestyle modifications while taking the drug, such as modifying your diet and including regular exercise in your daily routine.