New research by Harvard researchers, published in The Lancet, suggests that the cardiac benefits of taking statins, a cholesterol-lowing drug, are greater than the increased chance of developing diabetes experienced by some patients.

The study showed that when people with certain diabetes risk factors, such as obese people and people with high blood sugar, take statins, they experience an increase risk of developing diabetes. On the other hand, significant reductions were seen in these people’s risk of cardiovascular events like heart attack and stroke.

Judy O’Sullivan, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: “As with all drugs, statins bring both benefits and side effects. But statins can save lives.”

The researchers explained that the drug prevented 134 cardiovascular events or related deaths for people with diabetes risk factors for every 54 cases of diabetes that the drugs caused.

Dr. Paul Ridker, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and researcher in this study, explained:

“We believe that most physicians and patients would regard heart attack, stroke, and death to be more severe outcomes than the onset of diabetes. 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.”

Information from about 17,600 people were analyzed in order to conduct this 5 year research, which was funded by AstraZeneca, the pharmaceutical company that makes the drug used in the study. The participants were randomly assigned to take 20 milligrams daily of the statin drug rosuvastatin (Crestor- brand name) or a placebo.

Results showed:

  • People with diabetes risk factors that were taking the drug were 28% more likely to develop diabetes, compared with participants with the same risk factors taking the placebo
  • Statin users were 39% less likely to develop cardiovascular illness and 17% less likely to die during the 5 year study period, compared with people in the placebo group
  • Participants without diabetes risk factors were 52% less likely to develop cardiovascular illness and 22% less likely to die during this study, compared with those in the placebo group

Instead of monitoring everyone on statins for the development of diabetes, the experts suggest that it might be only necessary to monitor patients with pre-existing diabetes risk factors taking statins.

O’Sullivan concluded:

“This analysis confirms that the benefits of taking statins far outweigh the side effects for the majority of people who need to take them, including those at increased risk of developing diabetes.

If you’ve been prescribed statins, you should continue to take them. If you have any concerns about your medication, make sure you speak to your doctor.”

Written by Sarah Glynn