Cholesterol Remedy Statins Linked to Diabetes and Dementia

Common statins, prescribed to millions for high cholesterol, will now carry health warnings in theUSas evidence gathers that they increase the risk of diabetes and dementia.  Moreover, inAustraliadoctors are considering taking thousands of patients off these drugs and finding alternatives.

Statins are a class of drugs that work to lower cholesterol – blood lipids that cause narrowing of the arteries and eventually heart disease – by suppressing an enzyme that raises cholesterol in the blood.  With our often unhealthy western lifestyle full of saturated fats and lacking in exercise high cholesterol has become more common.  However, cholesterol tests are now a routine part of a medical check-up and the condition is now normally spotted before it can become too serious.

Statins are normally the doctor’s first go-to medication when a patient presents with raised cholesterol, though he will also advise the patient to lose weight, improve his diet, and take more exercise.  Statistics show half of all men in theUSaged 65-74 are on them, and 39% of women aged over 75.  However, in recent years evidence has been mounting for serious side effects caused by these drugs.

A recent study of 153,000 older women carried out at Harvard Medical School showed a link between taking statins and a 48% increased risk of type 2 diabetes across all strengths of the drug – that in effect the entire class of statins was implicated in the increased risk.  The link with dementia was not as strong, but still sufficient to cause concern in medical circles.

Statins date back to the 1970s, when research began in Japan to find a cholesterol lowering drug based on the known effects of the enzyme HMG-CoA Reductase, which causes the liver to produce low density lipids, or “bad” cholesterol.  Statins work by inhibiting this enzyme, which stops the liver producing cholesterol, lowering levels in the blood.  Hailed as a miracle drug, they were prescribed for millions of people across the world that had raised LDL cholesterol, and were at first thought to have no serious side effects.  A major study sponsored by pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co found cholesterol levels were lowered by 35% and the risk of heart disease by 42% on statins.

Then the doubts began to creep in, culminating in the findings of the Harvard study that statins are linked to a large increased risk of diabetes.  Some scientists think they are over-prescribed, with people not at much risk of heart disease still being given statins.  Others think the link between high cholesterol levels and heart disease has not been confirmed beyond doubt, and that only patients with other risk factors, such as a previous heart attack, a family history of heart disease or smoking, should be given statins.

One of the problems is that type 2 diabetes is associated with overweight and obesity, conditions that naturally encourage high cholesterol levels, so that a diabetic patient may have been on statins for some time when they are diagnosed with the disease.  This could raise questions about whether it is indeed the statins that raised the risk of diabetes or simply the fact that the [patient is overweight and perhaps has been so for many years.

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