Women Taking Statins Faced Increased Diabetes Risk

The study found a "dose effect" in the elderly women who took statins to treat cholesterol.

A study from Australia has found that older women who took statins to lower cholesterol faced a significantly increased risk of developing diabetes.

The findings, published this month in the journal Drugs and Aging, examined data from 8372 women born between 1921 and 1926 were surveyed regularly as part of the Women’s Health Australia study. Researchers from the University of Queensland, led by Mark Jones, PhD, found that women over age 75 faced a 33% higher risk of developing diabetes if they were taking statins.

“We found that almost 50% of the women in the late 70s and 80s in the study took statins, and 5% were diagnosed with new-onset diabetes,” Jones said in a statement.

Statins are widely prescribed to treat elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and in turn reduce the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks. In the United States there was controversy in 2013 when new clinical guidelines appeared to put many more older Americans in categories that would call for statins. One of their benefits is their low cost, but diabetes risk and tolerance are issues for some patients.

A new class of treatments, called PCSK9 inhibitors, were approved in 2015; while they don’t pose the risk of diabetes, they are expensive—more than $14,000 a year. A study presented today at the American College of Cardiology in Washington, DC, on long-term cardiovascular outcomes of one therapy in the class, evolocumab, found it offered 25% risk reduction for a combined end point of CV death, heart attack and stroke.

Jones, the Queensland researcher, noted that most studies of statins were on 40- to 70-year-old men. This has overlooked a “dose effect,” in which the risk of diabetes rises as the level of the drug increases—which would make sense in women. During the 10 years of the study period, dose levels of statins increased.

Reference

Jones M, Tett S, Geeske M, et al. New-onset diabetes after statin exposure in elderly women: the Australian longitudinal study on women’s health. Drugs Aging. 2017; 34(3): 203-209.