Statins Raise Diabetes Risk: Do The Benefits Outweigh The Risks?

By Amir Khan on August 10, 2012 9:12 AM EDT

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The benefits of taking statins, cholesterol lowering drugs, far outweigh the risks, according to a new study, published in the journal the Lancet. While the medication can cause an increased risk for diabetes, the benefits of lowering cholesterol make it an acceptable risk, researchers said. (Photo: Creative Commons)

The benefits of taking statins, cholesterol lowering drugs, far outweigh the risks, according to a new study, published in the journal the Lancet. While the medication can cause an increased risk for diabetes, the benefits of lowering cholesterol make it an acceptable risk, researchers said.

People who were at a higher risk for diabetes were still 17 percent less likely to die and 39 percent less likely to develop a cardiovascular disease than people at risk for diabetes who were not taking statins, according to the study. Patients not at risk for diabetes were 52 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease and showed no increased risk for diabetes.

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"When we focus only on the risk (of diabetes) we may be doing a disservice to our patients," Paul Ridker, study author and researcher with Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told USA Today. As it turns out for this data, the hazard of being on a statin is limited almost entirely to those well on their way to getting diabetes."

High blood sugar levels in Type 2 diabetes come from patients with pancreas that cannot produce enough insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. Traditionally, doctors treat Type 2 diabetes with medications and insulin injections. Risk factors for the condition include excess body weight, high cholesterol, low activity and poor diet, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Between 1980 and 2010, the prevalence of diabetes increased 176 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in 12 Americans, 25 million in total, has diabetes according to the CDC. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to kidney failure, blindness, heart disease and nerve damage. The disease was the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. and cost $174 billion in medical costs, disability and loss of work in 2007, the last year with available data.

Heart disease is a deadly and costly disease, and statins greatly reduce that risk, Kausik Ray, a researcher from George's Healthcare Trust in London, who was not involved in the study, told the Daily Mail.

"Statins are cheap and fairly safe. The costs of the drugs are as low as [$2] a month compared to [$40] a month a few years ago," he said. "However, the cost from heart disease for hospital admissions, investigations, stents and bypasses is huge."

Many people with diabetes are put on statins as a precautionary measure, as heart disease is the number one killer of diabetics, according to USA Today. However, diabetics should not feel forced to take the drugs, Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego, told USA Today.

"Many people can't tolerate statins," he said. "Diabetes alone is still not a commitment to lifelong statin use."

While the benefits of statins are numerous, no drug is better than a healthy diet, Maureen Talbot, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, told the Daily Mail.  

"It's worth remembering though that you may be able head off the prospect of being prescribed statins by eating a healthy balanced diet, keeping physically active and maintaining a healthy weight and body shape."

© 2012 iScience Times All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.

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