Can Statins Increase Blood Sugar?
Cardiovascular disease is a common and serious complication of diabetes. People with diabetes are more likely to have abnormal cholesterol levels. Having high cholesterol increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.1,2
Along with a healthy diet and regular exercise, doctors often prescribe statins to manage high cholesterol. Here, we explore how statins affect blood sugar levels.1
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance made by the body and found in animal-based foods like meat, dairy, and eggs. Some cholesterol is necessary for normal bodily functions. But when cholesterol is too high, it can stick to the inside of blood vessels and cause narrowing or blockage. Abnormal cholesterol levels increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease.2
Cholesterol is categorized into the following types:2
- LDL (“bad”) cholesterol – High LDL increases the risk of heart disease. A diet high in saturated and trans fats is linked to high LDL cholesterol.
- HDL (“good”) cholesterol – Higher HDL cholesterol may lower the risk of heart disease. Diabetes can decrease HDL levels.
- Triglycerides – High triglycerides combined with low HDL and high LDL are linked to fatty deposits inside blood vessels. These fatty deposits cause plaque to build up and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Balancing cholesterol levels is important for cardiovascular health. Diabetes tends to lower "good" cholesterol and raise "bad" cholesterol and triglyceride levels.2
What are statins?
Statins are drugs that treat abnormal cholesterol levels. They work by reducing the amount of cholesterol made in the liver. Statins also remove LDL cholesterol and triglycerides from the blood. Improving cholesterol balance prevents plaque buildup in blood vessels.1,3
Statins are highly effective at preventing heart attack and stroke. There are many different types and strengths of statins.1,3
Can statins increase blood sugar?
There is evidence that statins can increase blood sugar. However, depending on your risk of heart disease, the benefits of taking statins may outweigh the risks.1,3
Experts believe that taking statins increases a person’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes by about 10 percent over 5 years. The risk is higher for people with prediabetes and insulin resistance. For people who already have diabetes, statins are linked to increased blood sugar.4,5
Studies show that statin use increases insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when your cells do not respond normally to the insulin your body produces. Insulin resistance leads to higher blood sugar levels. Researchers are still looking at how statins impact insulin resistance.5-7
The following factors are linked to increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes while taking a statin:4,7
- Higher statin doses
- Insulin resistance and prediabetes
- Abdominal obesity
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Certain genetic and lifestyle factors
- Steroid use
Ways to support your cardiovascular health
Managing blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure is critical to supporting cardiovascular health. Here are some steps you can take to keep your heart healthy:1,2,8,9
- Nutrition – Eat a well-balanced diet focused on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein. Avoid saturated and trans fats, added sugar, and salt.
- Exercise – Aim for 20 to 25 minutes daily of moderate physical activity (like walking). Also, try to do muscle-strengthening exercises 2 days per week.
- Weight management – Work toward or maintain a healthy weight.
- Smoking – Stop smoking. Talk to your doctor if you need help.
- Alcohol – Limit or avoid alcohol. The US Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting alcohol to 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.
If you have type 2 diabetes, you must manage your cholesterol to maintain your cardiovascular health. The benefit of statins for heart disease prevention may outweigh the risk of increased blood sugar. Talk to your doctor to make a plan based on your overall health.3,4
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