Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Cholesterol-lowering statins slightly raise the risk of Type 2 diabetes, but the danger is small compared to the cardiovascular benefits of these medicines, according to a recent study from Scotland.

Using a type of research known as meta-analysis (in which statistics from several studies are combined and examined), researchers looked at data on over 90,000 people enrolled in 13 trials that used statins. Qualifying trials were randomized (meaning that participants were randomly assigned to the different treatment arms), lasted at least one year, and involved more than 1,000 participants. Statins included in the evaluation were atorvastatin (brand name Lipitor), simvastatin (Zocor), pravastatin (Pravachol), lovastatin (Mevacor), and rosuvastatin (Crestor). The researchers sought to clarify conflicting results from previous studies regarding whether statin use is associated with an increased risk of diabetes.

Of the 91,140 people enrolled in the studies, 4,278 developed diabetes during an average of four years of follow-up. Among those who developed the condition, 2,226 had been assigned to receive a statin, while 2,052 had been assigned to receive either a placebo (inactive treatment) or no treatment. This means that taking a statin is associated with a 9% increase in the four-year risk of developing diabetes.

According to lead author Naveed Sattar, PhD, “Statin therapy is associated with a slightly increased risk of developing diabetes, but the risk is low both in absolute terms and when compared with the reduction in coronary events.” Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death among people with diabetes.

The study authors noted that there is no clear explanation for the slight overall increase in diabetes risk associated with statins.

According to a piece on MedPage Today, Christopher Cannon, MD, suggested in a commentary accompanying the research report that “the most important calculation is the overall balance of risks versus benefits, which in the case of statins clearly favors the benefits.”

To learn more about the study, see the article “Diabetes Risk of Statins Outweighed by Heart Benefit” or read the study’s abstract in The Lancet.

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