Cholesterol-lowing drugs called statins have been shown to increase the risk of diabetes in some people, but this potential harm is outweighed by the benefits of the drugs, a new study says.
The study did find that people with certain diabetes risk factors, such as obesity and high blood sugar levels, had an increased risk of developing diabetes while taking statins. But people in this group p still experienced significant reductions in their risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke.
In fact, for those with diabetes risk factors, the statins prevented 134 cardiovascular events or related deaths for every 54 cases of diabetes that the drugs caused, the researchers said.
Among those without diabetes risk factors, taking statins did not increase diabetes risk. In this group, statins prevented 86 cardiovascular events or related deaths without causing any new cases of diabetes.
"We believe that most physicians and patients would regard heart attack, stroke and death to be more severe outcomes than the onset of diabetes," said study researcher Dr. Paul Ridker, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "We hope that these results ease concern about the risks associated with statin therapy when these drugs are appropriately prescribed — in conjunction with improved diet, exercise and smoking cessation — to reduce patients' risk of cardiovascular disease," Ridker said.
The study was funded by AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company that makes the drug used in the study.
To conduct the new study, Ridker and colleagues analyzed information from about 17,600 people who were randomly assigned to take 20 milligrams daily of the statin drug rosuvastatin (also known by its brand name, Crestor), or a placebo.
Over the five-year study, people with diabetes risk factors who took the statin were 28 percent more likely to develop diabetes than those with the same risk factors who took a placebo. But those who took statins were also 39 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular illness, and 17 percent less likely to die during the study period, compared with those in the placebo group.
People without diabetes risk factors were 52 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular illness, and 22 percent less likely to die during the study period, compared with those in the placebo group.
Rather than monitoring all patients on statins for the development of diabetes, the findings suggest monitoring may be necessarily only for those with pre-existing diabetes risk factors, the researchers said.
The findings agree with those of a study published last year by researchers in the Scotland. In that study, for every person that developed diabetes, three people were protected against a cardiovascular event.
Pass it on: The benefits of taking statins outweigh the risk of diabetes that comes with the medication, researchers say.