Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs are widely prescribed to lower levels of LDL – the so-called “bad” cholesterol – that builds up in the arteries in order to prevent cardiovascular events. However, studies have found the drugs can increase blood sugar levels and put users at risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Statins work by preventing the liver from producing LDL cholesterol. They also stabilize the lining of the blood vessels, which helps to prevent strokes and heart attacks. How statins effect glucose metabolism is unclear. Some studies suggest that statins may cause hyperglycemia – or high blood sugar – by increasing calcium concentration in the islet cells leading to decrease in insulin release. Insulin resistance leads to diabetes.
In 2009, Veterans Affairs studied fasting blood sugar in 345,417 patients – both with and without diabetes – who were treated with statin drugs. Researchers concluded that there was an increase in high blood sugars for both diabetics and non-diabetics taking statins.
Another study, conducted in 2012, looked at the risk of diabetes in postmenopausal women taking statin drugs. This study involved 153,840 women between the ages of 50 and 79 who did not have diabetes and who did take statins. Researchers concluded that statins not only increased blood sugar levels in the women, but also increased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
That study also found a greater risk of increased blood sugar and type 2 diabetes with higher potency statins, such as Crestor (rosuvastatin), and the moderately potent Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Zocor (simvastatin). Later studies have also shown an increased risk of diabetes among men taking statin drugs.