Statin medications may help protect people with diabetes from developing certain microvascular complications, a new study has found.
The cholesterol-lowering drugs are already known to reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke (macrovascular disease) among type 2 diabetes patients, but researchers in Denmark believe they also have the ability to prevent diabetes-related damage to small blood vessels in the body (microvascular disease), particularly among newly diagnosed diabetics.
The subject of statins and diabetes is a controversial one. While many studies have shown the drugs to be beneficial for individuals with type 2 diabetes, others have linked their use to increased glucose levels and higher risk of diabetes and associated complications.
“Since high levels of blood glucose, the hallmark of diabetes, are linked with microvascular disease, and since statins are suspected of raising glucose levels, we tested the hypothesis that individuals taking a statin before a diagnosis of diabetes might be at increased risk of developing microvascular complications,” explained study author Borge Nordestgaard, chief physician in clinical biochemistry at Copenhagen University Hospital.
Nordestgaard and colleagues analysed data on more than 60,000 people aged 40 or older who were diagnosed with diabetes between January 1996 and December 2009. Of those, more than 15,500 patients were taking statins and their outcomes were compared to more than 47,000 diabetic patients who were not prescribed the drugs.
The results surprisingly showed that compared with non-statin users, those taking the cholesterol medications were 40% less likely to be diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy (diabetes-related retinal damage), 34% less likely to have diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage) and 12% less likely to develop gangrene. Risk of diabetic nephropathy (kidney disease) remained the same for both groups.
“We found no evidence that statin use is associated with an increased risk of microvascular disease,” said study co-author Dr. Sune Nielsen.
She added: “Whether or not statins are protective against some forms of microvascular disease – a possibility raised by these data – and by which mechanism, will need to be addressed in studies similar to ours.”
The findings were published online in the journal Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology.

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