Simvastatin and Diabetes

by on May 23, 2012

High cholesterol levels in the blood and diabetes are both considered as risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as strokes and heart attacks. But recent studies suggest that treating high cholesterol might just lead to diabetes.

Simvastatin is among the widely prescribed medications used for the treatment of dyslipidemia or abnormally high cholesterol. However, statins or cholesterol-lowering drugs, which include simvastatin, can lead to an increase in blood sugar levels and Type 2 Diabetes, according to recent studies.

The U.S. Food and Drugs Administration recognizes these risks and has recommended including a warning in simvastatin’s prescription label. Diabetes is thought to increase the risk of coronary events.

How Simvastatin Causes Diabetes?

It is not fully understood how simvastatin and other statins can cause diabetes, but studies show that the reduction in CoQ10 affects the entire body including the gastrointestinal system, the pancreas and the endocrine glands which are essential in control of blood sugar levels. In fact, there are reported cases of pancreatitis due to use of this medication. The inhibited formation of cholesterol affects the entire body down to the tissue and cellular levels which can eventually affect insulin secretion pathways. It is thought that simvastatin may aggravate the condition of patients with existing diabetes.

What Studies Say

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in June 2011 linked statin use with diabetes. This study was conducted on 33,000 patients who started taking this statins with normal blood sugar levels. Of these patients, about 8 percent developed diabetes 5 years into the treatment. Those taking higher doses had a significantly higher risk compared to those taking lower doses.

Meanwhile, in an earlier study, researchers found that statin therapy increased the risk of diabetes by 9%. However, the study concluded that increase is relatively insignificant when compared with the reduction in potentially life-threatening cardiovascular events. The study further adds that while simvastatin can cause diabetes, its perceived benefits significantly outweigh the risk, especially for patients with moderate or high coronary risk or existing heart disease.

A recent study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in January 2012 indicates that the risk of diabetes may be higher than previously suggested by studies. It analyzed data from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) which is comprised of 153,840 postmenopausal women aged 50 to 80 years. The study noted that about 48% of women taking cholesterol-lowering drugs developed diabetes. It stressed that postmenopausal women are at increased risk of developing this side effect. The researcher, Dr. Yunsheng Ma of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Boston further recommends that healthcare providers consider this potential risks when prescribing simvastatin as well as other antilipemics.


Although simvastatin increases the risk of diabetes, studies show that this medication can significantly reduce the likelihood of stroke, heart attack and other coronary events – a major benefit that is far outweighs the risk. Despite the new FDA warnings, this medication is relatively safe.

While its value in preventing cardiovascular disease has been clearly established, it should be taken with caution and care. Healthcare providers must consider this risk when prescribing this medication. If you’re prescribed with a high dose of simvastatin, your healthcare provider may recommend annual blood glucose check to detect diabetes. Most importantly, having a healthy lifestyle such as diet and exercise to help curb cholesterol and minimize dependence to this medication.