Lower cholesterol, raise risk of developing diabetes

Cholesterol lowering drugs, known as statins, raise the risk of diabetes 9 percent, according to a new study published online in the British medical journal The Lancet.

The most frequently prescribed class of drugs in the United States with over 200 million dispensed prescriptions and $14.5 billion in sales in 2008, according to data from IMS Health, statins are a key medication for many doctors treating patients at risk of heart disease.

But some experts are concerned that the drugs are overprescribed and that many doctors, at their patients urging, reach for the prescription pad before trying other approaches - such as diet and exercise - to get elevated cholesterol under control. While statins have been proven to benefit patients who have heart disease or have had a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack, the data is less conclusive on the use of cholesterol lowering medications on so called primary prevention – people who have high cholesterol but no known cardiac disease. See this story from January 2008.

If you have heart disease check out the special report in The Inquirer and The Daily News.

In the Lancet study researchers from the University of Glasgow and elsewhere in Europe analyzed data from 13 clinical studies of statins that involving 91,140 patients. Of those 4,278 participants developed type 2 diabetes, 2,226 o whom were on a statin and 2,052 who were not taking the medications.

The researchers concluded that use of a statin resulted in a slight increased risk  of developing diabetes. “The risk is low both in absolute terms and when compared with the reduction in coronary events.”