Cholesterol Drugs Increase Risk of Diabetes

Cholesterol drugs, taken in high doses, may increase the risk of diabetes.

The drugs, called statins, provide a serious benefit for those with heart disease--by lowering cholesterol, they reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

This presents a conflict for individuals prescribed the drugs: which is worse, taking the drugs or staying off them?

Researchers say the risk is worth it: for every person who developed diabetes in the study, three people were protected against a cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke, according to study researcher David Preiss, of the University of Glasgow in Scotland. 

"In patients at high cardiovascular risk, there is little doubt that the benefits will strongly outweigh any risks, and we are keen to reinforce the message that patients keep taking their medication," Preiss told LiveScience.com.

The study indicated that patients taking a high dose of statins were 12 percent more likely to develop diabetes that those who took a moderate dose, but those taking the same dose of statins were 17 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack or any other cardiovascular event than those who took a moderate dose.

Preiss speculated that intensive statin therapy may interfere with the action of insulin, a hormone that lowers blood glucose. Or, it could be that patients experiencing muscle pain as a side effect of statins (which is a documented symptom) are less active, leading them to develop diabetes.

"It's important that patients understand that while there is this, what seems to be, a rather mild effect in terms of increasing risk [of diabetes], that the complications of heart diseases are a more serious threat," Dr. Ronald Goldberg, a professor of medicine at the University of Miami School of Medicine's Diabetes Research Institute, who was not involved in the study, told LiveScience.com. "If somebody does develop diabetes, we can treat that," he said.

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