If you are taking statins to reduce cholesterol levels and improve your overall cardiovascular health, the last thing you want to know is that statins may increase the risk of diabetes. However, experts are quick to point out that the risk is far outweighed by the benefits – here’s why.

A recent study analyzed the results of five separate clinical trials on almost 33,000 patients. The study participants had not been diagnosed with diabetes prior to the trial and were given cholesterol-lowering statins to lower the risk of heart attack or stroke.

The results showed that for every 498 patients who took high-dose statins for one year, there was an extra case of diabetes compared to those taking a placebo. At the same time, the study reported that the statins prevented one heart attack or stroke for every 155 people who took them. The balance showed that for every one extra case of type-2 diabetes, there were three people who were prevented from suffering a major cardiovascular event, which may have been fatal.

Researcher David Preiss, MRCP, a research fellow at the British Heart Foundation at the University of Glasgow concluded that if someone is at high risk of heart disease, taking statins is beneficial, but they should be checked for signs of diabetes on a regular basis.

Study Results on Statins
The study compared 32,752 patients with a history of chest pain, heart attack or cardiovascular disease but who did not have diabetes. They were given either high or moderate doses of Zocor, which is generically produced as simvastatin, or Lipitor. A high-dose was 80mg per day while a moderate dose was 10-40mg. Patients were monitored over a five year period.

The results showed that during that time 2,749 patients developed type-2 diabetes. That was broken down into 1,449 who were on high-dose statins and 1,300 who were taking a moderate dose. The study showed that there was no difference in diabetic risk between those on Zocor and those on other types of statins.
During the study, 6,684 participants suffered a major cardiovascular event. That was broken down into 3,134 on high-dose statins and  3,550 who were on a moderate dose.

Causal Links Between Statins and Diabetes
The study was unable to find a reason for the link between statins and increased risk of diabetes. It may be down to lifestyle factors, such as abdominal obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, which are both known to contribute to diabetes. Another possible theory was that statins cause muscle soreness, which made people less likely to move around and therefore increased the risk of diabetes. Studies on mice have shown that statins may interfere with the action of insulin in muscle cells.

Experts concluded that most people with heart disease are better off taking a statin but they should have regular checks for any signs of diabetes.