Health advice: The story of those statins

Q: I just read that taking statins can cause diabetes, which can seriously increase my risk for heart disease. I thought statins were supposed to reduce my risk. What’s the story?

Bernardo S., Boca Raton, Fla.

A: You’re referring to the six-year follow-up to the “Metabolic Syndrome in Men” study that was recently published in the journal Diabetologia. Researchers found that among study participants who took statins (simvastatin or atorvastatin) insulin sensitivity was decreased by 24 percent and insulin secretion by 12 percent; plus, the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes jumped by 46 percent. The dose of statins affected the degree of increased risk.

Let’s look at that. These guys already had metabolic syndrome. That means they had at least three of the following health issues: a large waistline, high triglycerides, low HDL “good” cholesterol, high blood pressure and high fasting blood sugar — all associated with developing diabetes whether you take statins or not. Plus, previous studies have shown that folks on statins tend to think they have a free ride (”The pill will make up for the high-fat, overprocessed foods I eat”) and end up indulging in cheeseburgers or ice cream and throw dietary caution to the wind. In fact, research has found that in the decade since 2000, people taking statins for high cholesterol increased their caloric intake by 9.6 percent and their fat intake by 14.4 percent.

The diet choices statins users make, if they’re fat-laden, could add to increased insulin resistance and decreased insulin production. But we know that statins are an effective way to lower lousy LDL cholesterol and are associated with a decrease in the risk for heart attack and stroke. So, don’t stop taking statins without talking to your doc. And don’t pop statins and eat barbecue pork. Maybe the real bottom line is that taking statins and eating lousy food is more dangerous than we thought.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. Email your health and wellness questions to Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen at