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Statin use associated with increased diabetes risk in women

UMass Chan researchers urge review of cholesterol-lowering drug risks, benefits

Yunsheng Ma, MD, PhD (left) and
Judith K. Ockene, PhD

Millions of women over age 50 on statin drugs are at a significantly increased risk of developing diabetes, according to a new study from UMass Medical School published online Monday, Jan. 9, in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Senior author Yunsheng Ma, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine and an epidemiologist at UMMS, said the study found that postmenopausal women on statin drugs showed a 48 percent increased rate of diabetes compared to those not on the cholesterol-lowering medications.

“These findings should have a significant impact on current clinical practice, as statin use has soared in recent years,” Dr. Ma said. “With an average of one in four Americans over 45 on these medications, it is imperative that future studies evaluate the risks as well as benefits of statin use among men, women and diverse ethnicities with different risk profiles.”

UMMS researchers examined data from the Women’s Health Initiative, the wide-ranging national health study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in which 161,808 postmenopausal women ages 50 to 79 were followed for 15 years. The UMMS study focused on 153,840 of those women who did not have diabetes at enrollment. After adjusting for confounding factors, statin use at baseline was associated with a 48 percent increased risk of diabetes. The association was observed for all types of statin medications.

“The Women’s Health Initiative has provided data and analyses that has led to challenging several areas of common medical practice, such as the overuse of hormone therapy for women who were post-menopause,” said Judith K. Ockene, PhD, the Barbara Helen Smith Chair in Preventive & Behavioral Medicine and professor of medicine, co-author of the statin study and a principal investigator of the Women’s Health Initiative. UMMS was one of 40 clinical centers for the Women’s Health Initiative.

According to surveys by the National Center for Health Statistics, the rate of Americans over age 45 taking statins has increased tenfold over the last 20 years: from 2 percent in the period from 1988 to 1994, compared to 25 percent from 2005 to 2008, the most recent years for which figures are available. The federal data also shows that figure jumps to 50 percent of men ages 65 to 74 taking statins, while 39 percent of women age 75 and older are doing so.