Age-Related Cataracts Linked to Statin Use

People who use statins to lower their cholesterol may face a higher risk of developing age-related cataracts, according to a new study that appears in the August issue of Optometry and Vision Science.  According to the study, the association between statins and cataracts may be equal to the association with type 2 diabetes, a known risk factor for age-relegated cataracts.  That’s significant, because statin use is generally higher among type 2 diabetics compared to the general population.

Statins, which are used to lower blood cholesterol levels, rank among the best selling drugs in the world. Lipitor (atorvastatin) is the world’s all-time biggest selling prescription medicine with cumulative sales of over $130 billion. In 2010, the generic version of Zocor (simvastatin) was the second most widely prescribed drug in the U.S.  Other statins currently on the market include:

  • Lescol (fluvastatin)
  • Mevacor (lovastatin)
  • Altoprev (lovastatin extended-release)
  • Livalo (pitavastatin)
  • Pravachol (pravastatin)
  • Crestor (rosuvastatin)
  • Advicor (lovastatin/niacin extended-release)
  • Simcor (simvastatin/niacin extended-release)
  • Vytorin (simvastatin/ezetimibe)

According to the authors of this new study, earlier research involving animals has pointed to a possible link between high-dose statin use and the development of age-related cataracts.  Their study examined 6,400 cataract patients who were being treated at the University of Waterloo in Canada between 2007 and 2008.  Both statin use and diabetes were looked at as risk factors for cataract development.

Overall, diabetes was associated with an 82% increase in cataract risk and statin use with a 57% increase. Out of the 450 patients in the study who were diabetic, 56% were taking statins.  Among patients in the study who weren’t diabetic, only 16% had taken statins.    As patients grew older, the risk of cataracts increased fastest in diabetic patients who took statins and slowest in nondiabetic patients who did not take statins. On average, cataracts developed 5.6 years earlier in diabetic patients who took statins, compared to nondiabetic patients who did not take the drugs.

According to the authors of the study, the findings do not constitute proof that statins cause cataracts.  However, they said the results will help to increase awareness of the risks of treatments for type 2 diabetes, and encourage the development of cholesterol-lowering drugs that are not associated with an increased risk of cataracts.

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