Scientists in Canada have discovered a potential way to reduce the risk of diabetes associated with taking statin medications.
Statins are among the most prescribed drugs in the world. They are designed to help lower the level of “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood to prevent the development of cardiovascular disease, but can have a wide range of adverse side effects, including raising the risk of type 2 diabetes.
“Statins are have been fantastic at reducing cardiovascular events, but the side effects of statins can be far worse than not being able to eat grapefruit,” said lead researcher Jonathan Schertzer, assistant professor of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences at McMaster University.
“Recently, an increased risk of diabetes has been added to the warning label for statin use. This was perplexing to us because if you are improving your metabolic profile with statins you should actually be decreasing the incidence of diabetes with these drugs, yet, the opposite happened.”
Schertzer and his team investigated further and identified one of the pathways that link statins to type 2 diabetes.
“We found that statins activated a very specific immune response, which stopped insulin from doing its job properly. So we connected the dots and found that combining statins with another drug on top of it, Glyburide, suppressed this side effect,” he explained.
Glyburide, or glibenclamide, is an anti-diabetic drug that belongs to the class of type 2 medications know as sulphonylureas.
Published in the Diabetes journal, the research could lead to a new, improved generation of statin by assisting the development of new targets for this specific immune-metabolism pathway that do not interfere with the drugs’ benefits.
“It’s premature to say we are going to change this drug, but now that we understand one way it can cause this side effect we can develop new strategies to minimise side effects. This may even include using natural products or nutritional strategies to subvert the side effects of statins,” Schertzer added.
The next phase for the team is to understand how statins promote diabetes by understanding how they work in the pancreas, as well as understanding if this immune pathway is involved in other major adverse effects of this drug treatment.

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