Do statin drugs increase your risk of developing diabetes?

Blog Post

Stephen W. Farrell, PhD, FACSM
The Cooper Team
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November 21, 2022

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in developed countries. Statin drugs are commonly used to decrease blood levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and have been clearly shown to significantly decrease the risk of cardiovascular morbidity (illness) and mortality (death). Currently, about 35 million American adults are on statin therapy.

In an earlier blog, we wrote that the benefits of reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease by taking a statin were much greater than the relatively small risk of developing diabetes as a result of statin use. Data from the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study (CCLS) has shed further light on this important issue. A total of 6519 men and 2334 women who were generally healthy at the time of their two separate comprehensive physical exams were tested at the Cooper Clinic. Both exams included a maximal treadmill exercise test to measure cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF). None of the patients were taking a statin drug at the time of their initial exam. Patients who were not placed on statin drugs between the two Cooper Clinic exams were designated as the ‘Never Statin’ group, while patients who were placed on statin drugs between the two exams were designated as the ’Started Statin’ group. There was an average of 3 years between the initial exam and the second exam. A total of 93 patients developed diabetes during this period. Less than 1% in the Never Statin group and 2.5% in the Started Statin group developed diabetes in between the first and second exams. Importantly, patients who had a normal fasting blood glucose level (<100 mg/dl) at the time of their initial exam did not have any significantly increased risk of developing diabetes if they were placed on a statin drug.

Therefore, while the use of a statin drug does modestly increase the risk of developing diabetes, this risk is substantially decreased in patients who have a normal fasting blood glucose level and moderate to high levels of CRF. This study was published in Atherosclerosis; the lead author was Cooper Clinic cardiologist Nina Radford, M.D.

Radford, N.B., DeFina, L.F., Barlow, C.E., et. al.  (2015). Effect of fitness on incident diabetes from statin use in primary prevention. Atherosclerosis. 239:43-49.


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