New findings suggesting statins increase diabetes risk should be treated with caution

5 March 2015        

A picture of statins being taken out of the packet

New research suggests men who take statins to reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke could be more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. But we think limitations in the study mean people taking the drugs should not be overly concerned.

Researchers from Finland studied over 8,700 non-diabetic patients to see whether or not taking one of two particular types of statin (simvastatin or atorvastatin) increased their chances of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.

Read our Medical Director's review of this study and why people should keep taking their medication.

The findings

The findings showed men who took statins were 46 per cent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and that those who were on higher doses were at greater risk.

However, the study was only conducted in men and many of them were already predisposed to developing type 2 diabetes.

Statins work to lower the body’s cholesterol, a key risk factor for coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Statins are one of the most studied medications available and there is overwhelming evidence to show they are both very safe and effective at reducing a person's risk of a potentially deadly heart attack or stroke.

The benefits of statins outweigh any risks

Our Medical Director, Professor Peter Weissberg, said: “Previous studies have shown that statins, while protecting against a life-threatening heart attack or stroke, can increase a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes.

“This study showed that it was patients taking a high dose statin who were most at risk of developing type 2 diabetes and, importantly, many of the patients who developed diabetes already had risk factors for diabetes at the start of the study. This suggests that statins may act by unmasking a pre-existing tendency to diabetes.”

“It is important that people taking statins because of existing cardiovascular disease should continue to take them as the benefits will outweigh the risks.

“Healthy people taking statins to reduce their future risk of developing heart disease should be taking the lowest effective dose and should be doing all in their power to reduce their future risk of developing diabetes and CVD by not smoking, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight.”

The study was published in the research journal Diabetologia.

If you have any questions about your medication please speak to your GP or contact our helpline.