Statins and the Future Risk of Diabetes

January 20, 2012 Dr Sadaty Uncategorized

Statin drugs, prescribed by doctors for lowering cholesterol, have arguably been the most successful drugs ever, at least in terms of sales.  To some extent, statins have been worthy of such elevated status.  After all, statins do follow through on their claim to both reduce cholesterol, and more importantly, to reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.  By lowering cholesterol, statin drugs also reduce the amount of plaque within the heart arteries, allowing for smoother and more uninterrupted blood flow.

Over the past decade, many doctors have privately asked themselves whether the entire world’s population should be prescribed a statin.  Better yet, some enthusiasts have joked that statins should be placed in the drinking water given their proven heart benefits.  As sales of statins have climbed, it seems that most adults, whether they be Octagenarians or Generation Xers have been advised to take a daily statin.  And finally, not to miss the bandwagon alltogether, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended checking cholesterol values in all children and to prescribe statins for those who cannot improve cholesterol values with lifestyle changes.

It is with this degree of enthusiasm (or insanity), that something had to finally give.  Recently, researchers from the University of Massachusetts examined the long-term affects of statin therapy in 150,000 women aged 50 to 70.  It turns out that those who had been taking statin drugs were 50 percent more likely to develop diabetes, a very unexpected finding.  Why this is the case is entirely unknown as statins are not understood to have any direct effect on the pancreas, the leading organ involved in blood sugar control.  The irony it presents, nonetheless, is that statins reduce reduce one risk for heart disease by reducing cholesterol only later to create another risk factor for heart disease, or Diabetes.

So what to make of this? Should everyone throw away their statin? Like everything in life, it all depends.  For those patients with a known heart condition or those with a very high risk for heart disease, it is probably best for them to continue using statins.  Although Diabetes can fill up heart arteries with plaque, statins likely work faster to clean them up, the net effect being cleaner arteries.  However, for the casual patient who doesn’t have a particularly high risk for heart disease and never knew why they were prescribed statins to begin with, one might want to have sit down with their doctor and talk about this one.  Let us not forget that heart disease isn’t the only illness made worse with Diabetes.


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