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Diabetes Complications Mitigated by Statin Use

Medication commonly used to reduce cholesterol could also be used to help patients with diabetes reduce their risk of serious complications like blindness and amputations.

Medication commonly used to reduce cholesterol could also be used to help patients with diabetes reduce their risk of serious complications like blindness and amputations.

A study recently published in The Lancet Diabetes showed that by taking statins a person could see other parts of their health not suffer as they would without them.

“Since high levels of blood glucose, the hallmark of diabetes are linked with microvascular disease, and since statins are suspected of raising glucose levels, we tested the hypothesis that individuals taking a statin before a diagnosis of diabetes might not be at increased risk of developing microvascular complications,” noted study author Borge G. Noordestgard, Chief Physician in Clinical Biochemistry at Copenhagen University Hospital in a statement. “Surprisingly, the results showed that statins decreased rather than increased risk of these complications.”

Using data from Danish clinical registries, researchers studied the incidence of microvascular complications in a pool of more than 60,000 people. All patients were age 40 years or older and were diagnosed with diabetes between Jan. of 1996 and Dec. of 2009. Results showed that just 15,679 patients experienced “microvascular outcomes” while taking statins prior to diagnosis, compared to 47,037 who had not.

Patient results were then examined again on average 2.7 years later and a maximum of 13 years following their initial checkups. At that time patients on statins were 34% less likely to be diagnosed with diabetic neuropathy, 40% less likely to develop diabetic retinopathy, and 12% less likely to contract gangrene. The results for diabetic nephropathy were similar and statin users also showed signs of being more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes.

“We found no evidence that statin use is associated with an increased risk of microvascular disease,” said co-author Sune F. Nielsen, also from Copenhagen University Hospital. “Whether or not statins are protective against some forms of microvascular disease, a possibility raised by these data, and by which mechanism, will need to be addressed in studies similar to ours, or in Mendelian randomisation studies, but preferably in randomised controlled trials.”

David Priess, MD, of the British Heart Foundation Cardiovascular Research Centre at the University of Glasgow, said in a linked comment that there is still more research that needs to be done on the topic.

“Statins act by reducing circulating LDL cholesterol, and to a lesser extent, triglycerides. But if statins do protect from microvascular damage, their effect might have little to do with lipid modification.” He added, “Fibrates are other lipid-modifying agents which have shown promising results for lowering the progression of retinopathy, but this appears to be due to direct anti-inflammatory effects in the eye rather than lipid modification. Statins also have anti-inflammatory effects which might slow the progression of microvascular disease in the eye or kidney. For now, however, any benefit of statins on microvascular complications remains unproven.”