May 20, 2015
Healthy Patients on Statins 87% More Likely to
Develop Diabetes

Dallas—Statins substantially increase the risk of developing diabetes, even in generally healthy patients, according to a new database study of TRICARE beneficiaries.

The study of nearly 26,000 beneficiaries of the Military Health System’s insurance program found that those taking the cholesterol-lowering drugs were 87% more likely to develop diabetes compared to a control group.

The report, published recently in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, also found that patients on statins had much higher risk of developing diabetes with complications as well as a much greater likelihood of becoming overweight or obese.

The researchers from the Veterans’ Affairs North Texas Health System and the University of Texas Southwestern, both in Dallas, noted that, while past research has described a link between statins and diabetes, theirs was the first study to only include participants who were free of heart disease, diabetes, and other severe chronic diseases at baseline.

“In our study, statin use was associated with a significantly higher risk of new-onset diabetes, even in a very healthy population,” said lead author Ishak Mansi, MD. “The risk of diabetes with statins has been known, but up until now it was thought that this might be due to the fact that people who were prescribed statins had greater medical risks to begin with.”

Among 3,351 pairs of similar patients—part of the overall study group—patients on statins were 250% more likely than their non-statin-using counterparts to develop diabetes with complications, looking at medical records from October 1, 2003, to March 1, 2012. “This was never shown before,” Mansi pointed out.

The group taking statins to lower their cholesterol also were 14% more likely to become overweight or obese after initiation of the drug regimen.

The study also found that the effect was dose-dependent, i.e., the higher the dose of any of the statins, the greater the risk of diabetes, diabetes complications, and obesity.

About three-quarters of the statin prescriptions in Mansi’s data were for simvastatin, marketed as Zocor.

“No patient should stop taking their statins based on our study, since statin therapy is a cornerstone in treatment of cardiovascular diseases and has been clearly shown to lower mortality and disease progression,” Mansi emphasized. “Rather, this study should alert researchers, [clinical] guideline writers, and policymakers that short-term clinical trials might not fully describe the risks and benefits of long-term statin use for primary prevention.”

He urged further trials to better understand the long-term effects of statin use.

“I myself am a firm believer that these medications are very valuable for patients when there are clear and strict indications for them,” he says. “But knowing the risks may motivate a patient to quit smoking, rather than swallow a tablet, or to lose weight and exercise. Ideally, it is better to make those lifestyle changes and avoid taking statins if possible.”
U.S. Pharmacist Social Connect