January 12, 2012 — Post-menopausal women who use a cholesterol-lowering statin medication are 50% more likely to develop type-2 diabetes than women who do not use statins, according to a new study of data from the Women’s Health Initiative
The researchers who found the link between statins and diabetes stress that will likely vary by patient populations. The researchers analyzed data from 153,840 women whose average age was 63, who did not have diabetes when the research began. The study began in 1993 and ended in 2005. The risk was greatest for women who had a BMI under 25, and was also highest for women of Asian descent.
10% of statin users developed diabetes, compared with 6.4% of women who hadn’t used statins at the beginning of the study.
The researches stressed that different populations have different risks of developing diabetes.
Current guidelines recommend lifestyle intervention as the best possible way to treat high cholesterol, as opposed to drug treatment. Not everyone needs to be taking a statin to lower their cholesterol, and they may be unaware of the risks of developing serious complications, such as Type-2 diabetes.
Experts advise women to consult their physician about the new data. They will need to weigh the benefit of lowering cholesterol as a way to prevent heart attacks versus the slightly increased risk of developing Type-2 diabetes. Though many doctors prescribe the pills to otherwise health people as a way to prevent heart disease, patients should talk to their doctor about using diet and exercise before adding a medication. Serious side effects include a breakdown of muscle tissue that can lead to kidney failure and death.
There is controversy about whether the drugs help people who do not have cardiovascular disease, but have risk factors such as smoking or high blood pressure. Several other studies have also found a link between statins and diabetes.
In June 2011, a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that high doses of Crestor increased a woman’s chance of developing diabetes, at a rate of approximately one additional person for every 498 patients treated. Because Lipitor, Crestor, and other statins are used by millions of people, the slightly increased risk likely translates to thousands of people who have developed diabetes as a result of using these medications.