Statins May Increase Diabetes Risks in Some
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Cholesterol is a waxy-type substance seen in the lipids (fats, sterols, triglycerides, etc.) in our blood. Our bodies need cholesterol to boost and maintain healthy cells, however high amounts of it raise the risk of heart disease.
A fresh study published in the Jan. 9 Archives of Internal Medicine indicates that the use of cholesterol-lowering statins increases the risk of developing diabetes in postmenopausal women. This new study comes on the heels of a previously reported association between statins and diabetes development, published about six months earlier. A further study published in the American Thoracic Society's American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, suggests that statins may increase the risk of smokers developing interstitial lung abnormalities.
On the flip side, a preliminary study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases last month, indicates statins cut the risk of dying from a severe case of influenza in half.
While research suggests an increased risk of developing diabetes with statin use, current guidelines don't indicate that statin use should be discontinued. Rather, people on high doses of statins should have their blood sugar checked routinely to screen for diabetes. Statins continue to be one of the most widely prescribed medication -- and usually for good reason. They can dramatically reduce "bad" cholesterol, or LDL, (some raise good, "HDL" cholesterol), which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and save lives.
Some of the widely prescribed statins, along with the pharm companies that manufacture them are:
Lipitor - Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE)
Crestor - AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN)
Zocor, Mevacor, and Vytorin - Merck & Co, Inc. (NYSE: MRK)
Lescol - Novartis International AG (NYSE: NVS)
Simcor - Abbott Laboratories (NYSE: ABT)
Still, these statin studies stir up interesting questions: Should doctors be more conscious of prescribing the absolute lowest does of statins to get the job done? Should they encourage exercise and a healthy diet as a means to control cholesterol level in addition to or as a replacement to a statin? Should people, especially postmenopausal women, ask their doctors "Is this statin necessary"?
Another issue: Apparently, high-doses of Pfizer's Lipitor worked better at cutting heart risk than generic Zocor. These findings may lead more physicians to choose Lipitor when high statin doses are needed vs. Zocor. This could help Lipitor's sales in a time sorely needed, since it lost its patent back in November 2011.
With the big-named pharmaceutical companies facing more competition from generics and the growing list of side effects of statins, will pharmaceutical companies who manufacture name-brand statins take a hit?
Fool blogger Liz Magill does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this entry at the time of publication.