Study Suggests Connection Between Cholesterol Medication and Diabetes

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By : dLife Editors

A new analysis of patient data suggests a connection between cholesterol-lowering statins and Type 2 diabetes.

The study, from Ohio State University, looked at thousands of patients’ health records and found that those prescribed statins had more than double the risk of diabetes diagnosis compared to those who didn’t take the drugs.

And, those who took the cholesterol-lowering drugs for more than two years had more than three times the risk of diabetes.

The detailed analysis provides a real-world picture of how efforts to reduce heart disease may be contributing to another major medical concern, according to Dr. Victoria Zigmont, a graduate student in public health, who led the study.

Statins are a class of drugs that can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. More than a quarter of middle-aged adults use a cholesterol-lowering drug, according to recent federal estimates.

“The fact that increased duration of statin use was associated with an increased risk of diabetes – something we call a dose-dependent relationship – makes us think that this is likely a causal relationship,” Zigmont said.

That said, Zigmont adds statins are very effective in preventing heart attacks and strokes.

“I would never recommend that people stop taking the statin they’ve been prescribed based on this study, but it should open up further discussions about diabetes prevention and patient and provider awareness of the issue,” she said.

How was the Study Conducted?

The study included 4,683 men and women who did not have diabetes. The participants were candidates for statins based on heart disease risk and had not yet taken the drugs at the start of the study.

The study was done retrospectively, meaning that the researchers looked back at existing records from a group of patients to determine if there were any possible connections between statin prescriptions and diabetes.

About 16 percent of the group – 755 patients – was eventually prescribed statins during the study period, which ran from 2011 until 2014. Participants’ average age was 46.

Researchers also found that statin users were 6.5 percent more likely to have a troublingly high HbA1c value – a routine blood test for diabetes that estimates average blood sugar over several months.

The authors note there were several limitations of the study:

One was that the majority of statin users were white. Also, the research team had no way of knowing how closely patients adhered to their doctors’ prescriptions.

The study also did not examine which statins and what doses might lead to the greatest risk, according to Zigmont.

Dr. Randall Harris, a study co-author and professor of medicine and public health at Ohio State, said that the results suggest that individuals taking statins should be followed closely to detect changes in glucose metabolism and should receive special guidance on diet and exercise for prevention.

Although statins have clear benefits in appropriate patients, scientists and clinicians should further explore the impact of statins on human metabolism, in particular, the interaction between lipid and carbohydrate metabolism said co-author Dr. Steven Clinton, a professor of medicine and member of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“In addition, researchers conducting large prospective cohort studies should be considering how statins impact human health overall. They should consider both risks and benefits, not just the disease that is being treated by the specific drug,” Clinton said.

The study has been published in the journal Diabetes Metabolism Research and Reviews.

Ohio State University.


  1. Ohio State University. (2019, June 25). Cholesterol medication could invite diabetes, study suggests. EurekAlert! Retrieved June 26, 2019, from