People are worried about their cholesterol levels today, more than they ever were in the past. And with good reason. We live in a very unhealthy society. Obesity is on the rise, high blood pressure, as well as several other strong links to elevated cholesterol levels. But, it’s not just these type of patients that are taking medications to reduce their cholesterol level. Healthy individuals have also started taking statins, in hopes of preventing future heart attacks.
Actually about one in four Americans over age 45 takes a statin, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. And, doctors currently write 255 million prescriptions for the cholesterol-lowering drugs each year, according to IMS Health, which monitors the pharmaceutical industry.
But although statins are considered to be some of the best drugs available, they come with some serious risks.
According to a recent study authored by Dr. Yunsheng Ma of the University of Massachusetts Medical School statins, drugs prescribed to lower cholesterol, may raise risks for developing diabetes in women.
The unwanted side effect is most prominent in middle-aged and older women, according to the study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study revealed that among thousands of women reviewed, those who reported using statins at the beginning of the six-to-seven-year research were almost 50 percent likelier to receive a diagnosis of diabetes versus those not taking stains, said Reuters.
Although the reasons for the increased risk are not clear, it is believed that statins’ effect on the muscles and liver might cause the body to make more sugar than normal, or may cause patients to exercise less, wrote Reuters. While experts say the benefits of statins outweigh the risks, cautions should be exercised and statin users should look to other ways of reducing their risk of diabetes, such as losing weight and exercising more, as well as having blood sugar levels checked regularly, said Reuters.
Although statins have been used since 1987, this kind of side-effect can take time to become apparent, says Robert Eckel, past president of the American Heart Association.
“These studies shouldn’t be a cause for alarm,” says Dr. JoAnn Manson, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, co-author of the study. “But the findings do raise concerns.” Manson also says the link to diabetes might appear more clearly in the Women’s Health Initiative because the study was so large and the women were followed for such a long time.
“What I fear here is that people who need and will benefit from statins will be scared off of using the drugs because of reports like this,” said Dr. Steven Nissen, cardiology chairman at the Cleveland Clinic, who wasn’t involved with the research. “We don’t want these drugs in the water supply, but we want the right people treated. When they are, this effect is not a significant limitation.”
The researchers advise patients not to stop taking their medications without talking to a doctor because statins’ proven power to prevent heart attacks and strokes outweighs any potential increase in type 2 diabetes risk.