Did you know that last year alone, nearly 21 million Americans were prescribed statins? In fact, they are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the world. While the decision to take them involves a review of numerous factors─such as age, family history, and blood pressure─many health experts feel that statins should not be used until a person hits a cholesterol level of 240 or higher, and then only if they refuse to make healthy lifestyle changes. Does that make statins a magic bullet? By no means, especially in light of new evidence that they may promote a condition worse than high cholesterol─diabetes.

A recent meta-analysis pooling the results from five well controlled studies demonstrated that statin therapy is associated with an increased risk of developing diabetes.(1) Surprisingly, some medical experts say these new alerts should not scare people away from statins. Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, stated that diabetic patients─and even those who develop diabetes while taking statins─should continue taking them. Nissen states that “These are not major issues, and they really do not alter the decision-making process with regard to statins.” Wait a moment, let’s be sure we heard that correctly. Diabetes is not a major issue?

Needless to say, this opinion is not shared by the general health and medical community. How serious is diabetes? Well, in addition to the classic complications it can bring, such as cardiovascular disease, renal failure, blindness, and neuropathy─a nerve disorder that affects involuntary body functions─numerous studies reveal that diabetes is also related to a higher risk of many cancers.(2) These include kidney, pancreas, liver, endometrial, colorectal, bladder, liver, and breast cancers. Another large study, with over 15 years of follow up, found that when compared to individuals with normal glucose tolerance, those with diabetes─and even prediabetes─had a significant increase in cancer mortality, irrespective of body mass index.(3)

Other adverse effects of statins include cognitive loss and neuropathy, as well as pancreatic, liver, and sexual problems. One study noted that “Physician awareness of statin adverse effects is reportedly low─even for adverse affects most widely reported by patients.”(4) Another study concluded that statin-related side effects, including statin cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease) are far more common than previously thought, but are reversible when patients stop taking the statins and supplement CoQ(10). And guess what? Researchers saw no adverse consequences with those quitting the statins.(5)

The lesson here? Seriously consider not taking statins without a very clear understanding of all associated risks. Especially when it’s so easy to reduce cholesterol levels naturally through diet and exercise! Bonus? A natural approach increases your wellness and slashes your risk of a plethora of other health problems as well. It’s all upside.

1JAMA. 2011 Jun 22;305(24):2556-64
2Diabetes and cancer. Endocr Relat Cancer 2009;16:1103-23
3Diabetologia 2010;53:1867-76
4Am J Cardiovasc Drugs. 2008;8(6):373-418. doi: 10.2165/0129784-200808060-00004
5Biofactors. 2005;25(1-4):147-52