RESEARCHERS have found that taking statins to reduce cholesterol increases the risk of developing diabetes by as much as 46 per cent.
A new study investigated two of the most popular statins, simvastatin, sold as Zocor, and atorvastatin, sold as Lipitor, which are used to reduce the chances of a heart attack or stroke in people at risk.
It examined the effect of treatments and dosage on the risk of type-2 diabetes and deterioration of blood sugar control.
The study, published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, found high-dose simvastatin was associated with a 44 per cent increased risk of developing diabetes, while for low-dose simvastatin the increased risk was 28 per cent.
For high-dose atorvastatin the increased risk was 37 per cent.
Professor Markku Laakso, of the University of Eastern Finland, oversaw the study, which followed 8,749 non-diabetic men aged 45-73 over six years.
He said: “The association of statin use with increased risk of developing diabetes is most likely directly related to statins decreasing both insulin sensitivity and secretion.
“Statin therapy was associated with a 46 per cent increased risk of type-2 diabetes after adjustment for confounding factors, suggesting a higher risk of diabetes in the general population than previously reported.”
Recent figures show 295 million “daily doses” of statins were prescribed last year, with around 700,000 Scots thought to be on the anti-cholesterol medication.
Many experts are enthusiastic about the benefits, while others believe they do not outweigh the potential side effects, including an increased risk of type-2 diabetes.
The British Heart Foundation has urged caution in regards to the most recent results, suggesting many of those taking part already had indicators that they were pre-diabetic and so were quite possibly already on the path to developing the disease.
BHF medical director Peter Weissberg said: “Previous studies have shown that statins, while protecting against a life-threatening heart attack or stroke, can increase a person’s risk of type-2 diabetes.
“This study showed that it was patients taking a high dose statin who were most at risk of developing type-2 diabetes and, importantly, many of the patients who developed diabetes already had risk factors for diabetes at the start of the study. This suggests that statins may act by unmasking a pre-existing tendency to diabetes.
“It is important that people taking statins because of existing cardiovascular disease should continue to take them as the benefits will outweigh the risks.”
Current clinical guidelines suggest that statins should be offered to people with a 10 per cent or higher risk of developing heart disease within a decade.
Statins are also recommended for patients who have had a heart attack or stroke to reduce the risk of future incidents.
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