Researchers from the United Kingdom say they may be able to explain, at least in part, why side effects of Lipitor, Crestor, and other statin-based cholesterol drugs may actually cause diabetes, in a study that further confirms the link between the widely used medications and the disease.
In a study published in The Lancet on September 24, researchers indicate that the enzyme the drugs are designed to inhibit to control cholesterol is also tied to a number of factors affecting blood sugar.
The enzyme is known as 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-CoA reductase (HMGCR), and the researchers looked at gene variants and how they affected plasma lipid, glucose, and insulin concentrations. The study substituted the gene variants for the effects statins have on HMGCR production. Researchers had data on more than 200,000 individuals from 43 genetic studies.
They found that some gene variants had the same effects on HMGCR enzyme production as statins, and in those cases, the genes also had similar effects on bodyweight, waist circumference and the risk of type 2 diabetes. The researchers said that suggests that the way statins effect HMGCR enzyme production is the same as the gene variant, meaning that since statins inhibit HMGCR production, they cannot help but increase the risk of diabetes as well.
“Statins increase the risk of new onset type 2 diabetes melitus,” the researchers state. “The increased risk of type 2 diabetes noted with statins is at least partially explained by HMGCR inhibition.”
Crestor, Lipitor Diabetes Risks
Statins are a popular class of cholesterol drugs, which are among the most widely used medications in the world. The findings come as concerns increase over the link between diabetes and Lipitor, even as some health organizations push guidelines that would result in million of new statin users being placed on the drugs indefinitely.
The study comes out just two months after Italian researchers published a study in the medical journal Diabetes Care, which determined that there was a dose-specific response that suggests that the longer a user takes Lipitor and similar drugs, the higher their risk of developing diabetes.
In June, Canadian researchers reported in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that they had found users of high potency statins, including Lipitor, Crestor, and Zocor, may face a 15% increased risk of being diagnosed with diabetes within two years of starting treatment. The researchers estimated that for every 350 patients given a high potency statin instead of a low potency statin, one of them would contract diabetes.
Crestor, Lipitor and Zocor are not only high potency statins, but they are also among the most popular drugs in the class. All other statin-based medications were considered to be lower potency cholesterol drugs.
Earlier this year, researchers in the U.K. reached similar conclusions in findings published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology. That study conducted by researchers from the National heart and Lung Institute in Imperial College London found that 3% of those taking statins were later diagnosed with diabetes, compared to only 2.4% who were given a placebo.
Crestor, Lipitor Diabetes Concerns
Statins generate combined sales of more than $14.5 billion per year, and are increasingly used to block the body’s creation of cholesterol, which is a key contributor to coronary artery disease. Although the medications are widely used, a number of studies have linked statins to an increased risk of potentially serious injuries, including muscle damage, kidney problems, and diabetes.
In February 2012, the FDA required the makers of Lipitor, Crestor and other statins to add new warnings about the potential impact of the medication on blood glucose levels. However, many critics have suggested that the warnings are not strong enough for certain medications, indicating that users and the medical community should be provided with more accurate information about the diabetes risks with Lipitor, Crestor and other statins.
Pfizer currently faces hundreds of Lipitor diabetes lawsuits filed by women throughout the United States, who allege that the drug maker knew or should have known about risks associated with their medication for years, but withheld diabetes warnings to avoid a negative impact on sales and growth of the blockbuster medication.
AstraZeneca also faces a number of Crestor lawsuits filed on behalf of former users of the cholesterol drug who were diagnosed with diabetes. Most of those cases are currently pending in California state court.
Late last year, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology called for new heart guidelines which some say would put millions of additional Americans on Lipitor, Crestor and other cholesterol drugs indefinitely. The recommendations suggest that statins should be the only drugs doctors prescribe to lower cholesterol levels and call for doctors to toss out cholesterol goal numbers, potentially keeping patients on the drugs permanently. Critics have suggested that the recommendations will result in the “statinization” of America.