We’d all prefer it if there were no nasty side effects to our treatments, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes it is worth risking a side effect for the greater good of our health. On that note, researchers continue to emphasize that the benefits of cholesterol-lowering statins on heart disease far outweigh any risk that they might slightly increase the chance of developing diabetes. More studies needs to be done in this area, but in light of the fact that cardiovascular disease is responsible for nearly two-thirds of deaths in people with diabetes and is the number one killer of women in the United States, it seems better to stick with the statins.
Statins lower cholesterol by inhibiting an enzyme in the body called HMG-CoA reductase, which typically works in the cholesterol synthesis pathway. Since most circulating cholesterol in the body comes from this internal manufacturing process, and not necessarily from what we eat, blocking or inhibiting cholesterol production in the liver can have a significant effect.
Researchers, led by Dr. Rajpathak of Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, collected data from a Scottish trial and five other randomized placebo-controlled statin trials involving more than 57,000 adults. The number-crunching showed that after an average of not quite four years, 2,082 participants had developed diabetes. Without including the Scottish trial, there was a 13 percent increased relative risk of diabetes in people taking a statin. When the Scottish trial was included, the risk of diabetes with statin therapy dropped to six percent.
It is unclear why the Scottish trial had different results. The researchers, who published their findings in Diabetes Care, point out that other factors may have influenced the findings and are pursuing these important questions. Nevertheless, most doctors believe that even if the statins do slightly elevate the chances of developing diabetes, the benefit to heart health is worth the risk.
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