According to a study just published online in the medical journal the Lancet, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can directly increase the risk of diabetes.
While statins have previously been associated with higher rates of Type 2 diabetes, it was not clear whether the drugs were responsible. The new study has produced strong evidence that the basic mechanism of the statins can lead to weight gain and an increase in diabetes risk, the Guardian reports. The researchers analyzed genetic data from up to 220,000 people and results from almost 130,000 patients who had taken part in earlier statin trials. Patients taking statins experienced a 12 percent increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes over a four-year period, and, on average, they gained around half a pound in weight. Statins, including atorvastatin (Lipitor), simvastatin (Zocor), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol), and rosuvastatin (Crestor), are prescribed to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attacks. Statins work by causing liver cells to trap more low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – “bad” harmful cholesterol – from the bloodstream. The cholesterol is converted to bile salts and eliminated naturally from the body, the Guardian explains. The study’s lead researcher, Dr. Daniel Swerdlow, from University College London’s Institute of Cardiovascular Science, said the “findings indicate that the weight gain and diabetes risk observed in the analysis from trials are related to the known mechanism of action of statins rather than some other unintended effect.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, side effects with statins include liver damage, muscle problems (aching and tenderness), increased blood sugar leading to the development of Type 2 diabetes, and neurological problems (memory loss and confusion). A 2004 study in the New England Journal of Medicine linked statin exposure in the womb in the first trimester of pregnancy to central nervous system defects and limb deformities in the fetus.