Research has shown that popular cholesterol-lowering medications may increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Weight control, however, may keep the diabetes away.
Atorvastatin (brand name Lipitor) is one of the most popular statins. Statins block an enzyme in the liver responsible for cholesterol production. Using atorvastatin, however, may increase the risk of getting new onset diabetes, according to a study in BMJ last year.
A more recent investigation supported this association between atorvastatin and diabetes, but it also found that weight loss could fend off the disease.
Kwok-Leung Ong, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Centre for Vascular Research at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and his colleagues followed 7,595 patients with heart disease but no indication of diabetes at the start of the study.
Patients were randomly assigned to receive either 10 mg or 80 mg of atorvastatin daily.
After an average of about five years, 659 patients developed new onset diabetes — 308 in the 10 mg group and 351 in the 80 mg group. The difference was not statistically significant.
All men and women in the study experienced an average weight gain of close to two pounds after a year, but those who eventually got diabetes had an average weight gain of 3.5 pounds.
After adjusting for other elements that could bring on diabetes, scientists observed that weight gain remained a significant risk factor.
Based on the results, the authors noted that weight control can be used as a lifestyle measure to prevent statin-related new-onset diabetes mellitus (NODM).
Dr. Ong told dailyRx News, “A small weight loss [for example, two pounds], which can be achieved readily, can result in substantial reduction of NODM risk in both men and women.”
Although statins have been recently shown to slightly increase the risk of diabetes, the beneficial effects of statins on lipid levels (fats in blood) and cardiovascular disease risk outweigh their slightly adverse effect on blood sugar levels, according to Dr. Ong.
More than 29 million people in the United States have been prescribed Lipitor. Along with a low-fat diet, the medication has been shown to effectively lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol by an average of 39 to 60 percent.
“My advice is that statin-related NODM could be prevented by the usual lifestyle interventions, especially weight loss,” he told dailyRx News. “We are not sure why statin users gain weight in the trial over one year after randomization. As there is no concurrent control data from a parallel group comprising patients without any statin therapy, it is not known whether the weight gain is really related to statin use or other factors.”
The study was published online in March in The American Journal of Cardiology. The patient trial was funded by Pfizer, Inc.