Statin use triggers weight gain and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and diabetic complications, according to a new 10-year study.
However, the research, which was conducted at the University of Texas, does not indicate that patients at risk of heart disease who currently take statins should stop taking them. Rather, it urges healthcare professionals to weigh up the potential risks associated with statin treatment before prescribing.
How was the study conducted?
The study involved more than 25,000 participants. 3,982 participants were on statin treatment, and 21,988 were not. All of the study’s participants were considered “healthy adults”.
Over the ten years, the participants who took statins had double the risk of type 2 diabetes, and their risk of being diagnosed with complications was 2.5 times that of the non-statin group.
“The risk of diabetes with statins has been know, but until now it was thought that this might be due to the fact that people who were prescribed statins had greater medical risks to begin with,” said Dr. Ishak Mansi, of the University of Texas, who led the study.
“I am sceptical about the prescribing guidelines for people at lower risk [of heart disease]. I am concerned about the long-term effects on the huge population of healthy people on these drugs who continue for many years.”
However, Mansi was keen to point out that this study does not mean that patients should stop taking their statins. Rather, it should be used to inform the prescription guidelines for statins. For those at risk of heart disease but not yet taking statins, the study may encourage them to find alternative ways to lower their risk.
“No patient should stop taking their statins based on our study, since statin therapy is a cornerstone in treatment of cardiovascular disease and have been clearly shown to lower mortality and disease progressio,” he said to Medical Research.
“Knowing these risks may motivate a patient to quit smoking to lower risk rather than swallowing a tablet, or may motivate a patient to lose weight and exercise.”
The findings are published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
Diabetes and statins: a complicated relationship
Statin treatment and type 2 diabetes have a complicated relationship. More than half of people with type 2 diabetes are taking statins at the time of their diabetes diagnosis. Statins are frequently prescribed for people with diabetes, because diabetes increases the risk of heart disease.
However, numerous recent studies have indicated that statin use increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, leading many commentators to question the wisdom of prescribing them. When one weighs up the risks of statin treatment against the benefits, it does not seem like a good idea. Research shows that 99 per cent of users will not benefit from their treatment. For every 1,000 people at risk of heart problems, statin use over three years prevents seven heart attacks, four strokes and two deaths.
However, with more than 17.5m people in the UK at risk of heart problems, preventing those problems in just one per cent of that population prevents thousands of deaths. Many commentators, therefore, argue that statin treatment has its values, but that the guidelines for prescription should be more carefully considered.

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