Statins and Type 2 Diabetes Risk
By: Cat Ebeling, BSN, co-author of the best-sellers: The Fat Burning Kitchen, The Top 101 Foods that Fight Aging & The Diabetes Fix
If you have type 2 diabetes and you take a statin drug, you might start noticing a phrase that’s ridiculously overused…
“The benefits outweigh the risks.” Has your doctor ever said that to you?
There are plenty of risks and they’re all serious health issues. Actually the risks FAR outweigh the benefits. ESPECIALLY if you already have type 2 diabetes.
Statins are the primary drug that doctors prescribe to lower cholesterol. Statins are a fairly recent pharmaceutical creation that work by blocking an enzyme in the liver that is responsible for making cholesterol.
Statins became one of the most-prescribed medications when the guidelines for the high end of total cholesterol guidelines were reduced down to 200 a few years ago.
Now, tens of millions of Americans are taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, thinking this is the best way to prevent heart disease. In fact, about 30 percent of American men and women over age 40 take a statin.
The problem is that statins come with a host of side effects which can be pretty significant. One of the more serious side effects of statins is the significant increased risk of type 2 diabetes. The latest study on this connection shows the link may be even stronger than was previously reported.
Researchers prospectively studied 8,567 men and women whose average age was 64. All were free of diabetes and not taking statins when the study started. In a follow-up study 15 years later, about 12 percent of the group had started taking statins, most using either Zocor or Lipitor (simvastatin or atorvastatin) and the rest either Pravachol or Lescol (pravastatin or fluvastatin). Most took the statins for over a year, and 716 new cases of diabetes occurred in the group.
After controlling for age, sex, smoking, family history of diabetes, and other factors, researchers found that statin use was associated with higher risk for insulin resistance and high blood sugar, and with a 38 percent increased risk for the development of Type 2 diabetes.
The brand of statin and the dosage made no difference, but the risk was especially high for statin users who were overweight or obese—which is of course an increased risk for type 2 diabetes as well. The study appeared in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. Other recent research also shows a similar causal link between elevated blood glucose, type 2 diabetes and statins as well.
Here’s the key thing to take away—the number one risk factor of having type 2 diabetes is heart disease.
Adults with type 2 diabetes are about two to four times as likely to die from heart disease as adults who do not have diabetes.
So the question is–if you were told to take statins to lower your cholesterol and chances of heart disease, but it actually increases your chance of developing type 2 diabetes, is it worth it to take statins?
How do Statins increase risk of diabetes?
Statins have been shown to increase your risk of diabetes through a few different mechanisms. The most important one is they increase insulin resistance, which can be extremely harmful to your health. Increased insulin resistance contributes to chronic inflammation in your body, and inflammation is the hallmark of most diseases.
In fact, increased insulin resistance can lead to heart disease, which, ironically, is the primary reason for taking a cholesterol-reducing drug in the first place! It can also promote weight gain, high blood pressure, heart attacks, chronic fatigue, thyroid disruption, and diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.
Secondly, statins increase your diabetes risk by actually raising your blood sugar. When you eat a meal that contains starches and sugar, some of the excess sugar goes to your liver, which then stores it away as cholesterol and triglycerides. Statins work by preventing your liver from making cholesterol. As a result, your liver returns the sugar to your bloodstream, raising blood sugar levels.
If you’re on a statin drug and find that your blood glucose is elevated, it is possible that you may just have hyperglycemia—a side effect, or result of your statin medication. Unfortunately, many doctors will often mistakenly diagnose you with type 2 diabetes, and possibly prescribe a diabetes drug, like metformin or insulin.
Discontinuing the statin will help to determine if blood glucose levels are caused by the statin. Be sure to check in with the physician, however, before stopping any prescribed medication.
Statins are well-known for the muscle weakness and pain they can cause, but statins can affect much more than just the muscles and blood sugar. Many people have reported cognitive problems and memory loss as a result of statin medication.
Other potential side effects of statins include: kidney problems, anemia, sexual dysfunction, immune depression, cataracts, increased cancer risk, abnormal liver enzymes and depression.
The other ironic, and contradictory fact about statins and heart health is the fact that statins deplete your body of CoQ10. CoQ10 is an essential cofactor in the body that is essential for the creation of ATP, which is what every cell in the body uses for energy production.
This is especially important for muscles—especially the heart muscle. CoQ10 is produced primarily in the liver and it also plays a role in maintaining blood glucose as well. As the body gets more and more depleted of CoQ10, it causes extreme fatigue, muscle weakness and achiness, and can even lead to heart failure.
Physicians seem to be blissfully unaware of this risk, and don’t usually discuss with patients the importance of supplementing with extra CoQ10. CoQ10 is also necessary to neutralize free radicals in the body, which damage the cell’s DNA and their reproduction. It’s a vicious cycle to have low CoQ10, no cellular energy (this translates to no energy overall!) and damaged DNA.
In addition, the muscle fatigue and pain make it difficult to be motivated to do any amount of exercise, further weakening the cardiovascular system and the muscles.
Statin drugs also interfere with necessary and vital biological functions, including hormone pathways. Statins affect the sex hormones, cortisone, and vitamin D. Statins actually interfere with your body’s natural ability to create vitamin D, which is related to cholesterol. It’s a fact that vitamin D actually helps improve insulin resistance, so a reduction in vitamin D also removes this protective factor, opening the door a bit wider for type 2 diabetes.
Do I Really Need to Lower My Cholesterol?
Total cholesterol values are only a very small part of the picture of your chances of heart disease, but unfortunately conventional medical doctors use total cholesterol numbers to base their decision to recommend statins.
It’s become common knowledge that cholesterol is not the primary cause of heart disease. In fact, three large reviews show the errors in the generally held theory that cholesterol causes heart disease. And this study, also shows no real link between cholesterol and heart disease. In fact, to the contrary, it’s been shown that low cholesterol contributes more to all-cause mortality in older adults, not high cholesterol.
Having a lipid panel that shows you have higher than normal total cholesterol then, is not any kind of predictor of your risk of heart disease, unless it is over 350. The ONLY people who may benefit from cholesterol-lowering practices are those with a genetic type of very high cholesterol.
The High Density Lipoproteins or HDL, number is a far more reliable indicator for heart disease risk. Here are the two ratios to check on your lipid panel:
- HDL/Total Cholesterol Ratio: Should ideally be above 24 percent. If below 10 percent, you have a significantly elevated risk for heart disease.
- Triglyceride/HDL Ratio: Should be below 2.
Many people with total cholesterol levels over 250 are actually at low risk for heart disease because of their high levels of protective HDL, and many people with low cholesterol under 200, can be at high risk for heart disease because of their high LDL and triglycerides.
Actually the conventional LDL/cholesterol hypothesis is not entirely accurate, because damage of the interior layers of your arteries always precedes heart disease, and this damage can be induced by a number of factors, including smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar and inflammation.
Once the artery is damaged, cholesterol-rich plaque begins to build up as a protective mechanism. Problems arise when the rate of damage to the vessels and blood clot formation outpace your body’s ability to repair the blood vessels.
Your body actually needs a good amount of cholesterol—it is important in the production of cell membranes, all of your hormones—especially sex hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids that help you to digest fat.
Cholesterol also helps your brain work properly and is vital to healthy nerve function. There is also plenty of evidence that having low levels of cholesterol increases your risk for cancer, memory loss, Parkinson’s disease, hormonal imbalances, stroke, depression, suicide, and violent behavior.
If your doctor recommends you take statins to lower your cholesterol, think twice about that. There are many ways to protect your health with a healthy, low carb/low sugar diet, high in antioxidant-rich veggies, that will also protect you from heart disease, diabetes, and many other diseases. Statins don’t seem to be the best solution.