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Statins linked to 30 per cent type 2 diabetes risk increase

By Editor
24th October 2017
Research, Type 2 diabetes

Long-term use of statins has been found to raise the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30 per cent in some individuals, according to research.

The findings were discovered during the decade-long US Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study (DPPOS) of more than 3,200 people, which was carried out by a team from New York.

Around six million people in the UK take statins to reduce their cholesterol and prevent heart disease, but previous research has suggested the medication increased people’s chances of developing type 2 diabetes at no more than 10  to 12 per cent. But researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine think the risk is significantly more and might be because the controversial treatment might impair insulin production.

In the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care, they called for regular blood sugar tests of people taking statins.

This was a long-term follow up study to a randomised clinical trial which looked at whether modest weight loss through lifestyle changes or treatment with metformin could reduce or delay development of type 2 diabetes in people at high risk.

The trial participants were given standard advice on healthy eating and exercise and were randomly assigned to either an intensive lifestyle programme, treatment with metformin, or a dummy drug (placebo).

At the end of the trial they were invited to take part in DPPOS, during which their blood fats and blood pressure were measured annually. Blood glucose was measured twice a year, at which point new statin treatment was recorded.

At the start of DPPOS fewer than 4 per cent of participants were taking statins, but use of these drugs gradually increased until after 10 years around a third of the participants were taking them.

The most commonly prescribed statins were simvastatin (40 per cent) and atorvastatin (37 per cent). The likelihood of a prescription rose substantially after a diagnosis of diabetes.

However, statin use was itself associated with a heightened risk of being diagnosed with diabetes, irrespective of which treatment group the participants had been in during the trial.

When all treatment groups were combined, taking a statin was associated with a 36 per cent heightened risk of subsequently being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, compared to those who had not been prescribed these drugs.

This risk fell slightly to 30 per cent after taking account of the clinical criteria used to determine the need for statin treatment. Although those who were prescribed statins had slightly higher levels of blood glucose to start with, this still didn’t explain their higher rates of diabetes.

Pay Kalsi, senior clinical advisor at Diabetes UK, said: “Statins can significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes, so it is important that people who have been prescribed statins continue to take their medication. If they have any concerns about the medication they are taking, then they should discuss this with their doctor.

“There are a number of different factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  To reduce this risk, we recommend that people follow a balanced diet, do regular physical activity, maintain a healthy weight and have regular check-ups with their doctor.”

To read the research paper, click here.

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