Statin medications (statins) are drugs that help lower cholesterol levels in the blood to help prevent coronary heart disease for those at risk or who already have experienced some form of cardiovascular disease. Statins do carry certain risks that need balanced and managed through ongoing physician monitoring. A recent study highlights how important it is to manage diabetes risk factors when taking statins.
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New study examines statin-diabetes link
A higher than previously documented risk of Type 2 diabetes with statin use was recently reported in the journal Diabetologia. Various past studies have found a zero to 36 percent higher risk of developing diabetes while taking statins. An average risk of developing diabetes on statins is reported at approximately 9% in meta-analyses.
This latest study determined that men taking statins had a 46 percent higher risk of diabetes than those not on statins. Additionally, statin use was associated with a 24 percent reduction in insulin sensitivity and a 12 percent reduction in insulin secretion. Some previous studies evaluated fasting blood sugar, while this study applied more precise A1C and glucose tolerance tests.
Michael Rocco, MD, Medical Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Stress Testing, Section of Preventive Cardiology at Cleveland Clinic, reviewed the findings (he did not participate in the research). Dr. Rocco noted that the people who developed diabetes while taking statins were older, had a higher Body Mass Index (BMI), and a much higher incidence of cardiovascular disease.
“It does look like people who have increased incidence of Type 2 diabetes on statins tend to be those already at highest risk for diabetes development,” says Dr. Rocco.
Who should be concerned
The following individuals should be extra diligent in managing diabetes lifestyle risk factors if taking statins:
- Overweight and older than 45 years of age
- Overweight and under the age of 45, but have a family history of diabetes, high blood pressure, or high blood lipids
- African-American, Native-American, Hispanic, or Asian
- Have a history of gestational diabetes; or have given birth to a baby weighing 9 pounds or more
Lifestyle changes to manage diabetes risk
- Engage in regular exercise
- Consume a healthy diet
- Maintain an ideal weight
What you should know
Because of this documented higher risk that statin treatment may bring, it is especially important to manage lifestyle risk factors for diabetes when taking statins. Dr. Rocco offers several pointers:
- Focus on weight management, diet and exercise to decrease overall risk of diabetes
- Younger women should be prescribed statins for primary prevention only with careful physician consideration of cardiovascular risk
- A reduced statin dose may be appropriate for those already at risk for developing diabetes, as well as extra monitoring for development of diabetes.
It is important to continue taking statins if you and your physician determine you need them, while giving extra attention to making lifestyle changes to reduce your diabetes risks.