Statins Increase Diabetes Risk 87% in TRICARE Study

DALLAS — Even for generally healthy patients, statins substantially increase the risk of developing diabetes.

That’s according to a new database study of nearly 26,000 beneficiaries of the Military Health System’s insurance program. The report, published recently in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, noted that those taking the cholesterol-lowering drugs were 87% more likely to develop diabetes compared to a control group.1

Researchers from the VA North Texas Health System and the University of Texas Southwestern, both in Dallas, noted that patients on statins had much higher risk of developing diabetes with complications as well as a much greater likelihood of becoming overweight or obese.

Past research has described a link between statins and diabetes, but this was the first study to only include participants who were free of heart disease, diabetes and other severe chronic diseases at baseline.

“In our study, statin use was associated with a significantly higher risk of new-onset diabetes, even in a very healthy population,” said lead author Ishak Mansi, MD. “The risk of diabetes with statins has been known, but up until now it was thought that this might be due to the fact that people who were prescribed statins had greater medical risks to begin with.”

Among 3,351 pairs of similar patients in medical records reviewed Oct. 1, 2003, to March 1, 2012, patients on statins were 250% more likely than their non-statin-using counterparts to develop diabetes with complications.

“This was never shown before,” Mansi pointed out.

After initiation of the drug regimen, members of the group taking statins to lower their cholesterol also were 14% more likely to become overweight or obese. The study also found that the effect was dose-dependent (i.e., the higher the dose of any of the statins, the greater the risk of diabetes, diabetes complications and obesity).

About three-quarters of the statin prescriptions in Mansi’s data were for simvastatin, marketed as Zocor.

“No patient should stop taking their statins based on our study, since statin therapy is a cornerstone in treatment of cardiovascular diseases and has been clearly shown to lower mortality and disease progression,” Mansi emphasized. “Rather, this study should alert researchers, [clinical] guideline writers and policymakers that short-term clinical trials might not fully describe the risks and benefits of long-term statin use for primary prevention.”

1 Mansi, I; Frei CR, Chen-Pin W, Morenson EM. Statins and New-Onset Diabetes Mellitus and Diabetic Complications: A Retrospective Cohort Study of US Healthy Adults. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 2015; DOI: 10.1007/s11606-015-3335-1