Risk Factors for Diabetes

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Drugs and Health, Health Current Events, Supplements and Health

Are Statins Dangerous?

Author:  Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

statins side effectsSeveral years ago I recall a cardiologist telling my class of first year medical students that statins were so beneficial that we should just put them in the water supply. He said it in a lighthearted manner, but I think he really believed it. [In actuality, statin drugs are so widely prescribed that they already are in the water supply of some major US cities (http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-03-10-drugs-tap-water_N.htm).]

The Pros And Cons of Statins

When taken by people who have already had a heart attack, statins clearly save lives. However, as I documented in my eBook “The Myths of the Naysayers” (scroll down to Check It Out if you would like to learn how you can get that eBook for FREE) the benefits of statins are marginal at best in healthy people who have not yet had a heart attack.  So are statins one of the risk factors for diabetes?

Statin Side Effects

In addition, statins have some significant side effects. For example, up to 5% of people taking statins develop muscle pain. For most people the muscle pain is merely an inconvenience, but in a small percentage of cases it can lead to fatal complications.

More concerning are the required label warnings that statins can lead to memory loss, mental confusion, high blood sugar and type 2 diabetes. In other words, they may not kill you, but they sure can make life miserable.

Because of the marginal benefits in healthy people and the multiple side effects, some experts are starting to step up and say that statins may be overprescribed. For example, Dr. Roger Blumenthal, MD, a professor and director of the Ciccarone Preventive Cardiology Center at Johns Hopkins recently said: “Statin therapy should not be approached like diet and exercise as a broadly based solution for preventing coronary heart disease. These are lifelong medications with potential, although rare, side effects, and physicians should only consider their use for those patients at greatest risk…”

Dr. Blumenthal made that statement a few years ago when we thought that statins only increased diabetes risk by 9-22%. The latest study suggests that statins may increase diabetes risk by as much as 46%. That, in my opinion, is a game changer.

Statins And Diabetes Risk?

statins and diabetes riskThe idea that statins increase the risk of type 2 diabetes is not new. Previous studies have reported that statins increase the risk of diabetes anywhere from 9% to 22%. As a consequence, the FDA required that “increased risk of elevated blood sugar and developing type 2 diabetes” be added to the warning label on statin drugs starting in 2012.

The authors of the current study (Cederberg et al., Diabetologia, DOI 10.1007/s00125-015-3528-5) felt that previous studies may have underestimated the true risk of developing diabetes because:

  • Previous studies were often done with patient populations at very high risk of cardiovascular disease. In today’s world statin drugs are often prescribed for patients at moderate or low risk of cardiovascular disease. The authors felt that the effect of statins on diabetes risk might not be the same in these two populations.
  • Previous studies relied on self-reported diabetes or fasting blood glucose levels as the criteria for classifying the study subjects as diabetic. In today’s world there are a wider array of diagnostic tests that are used to confirm a diagnosis of diabetes.

This study looked at the risk of developing type 2 diabetes associated with statin treatment over a 6-year period in a group of 8,749 Finnish men (aged 45-73 years) who were enrolled in the Metabolic Syndrome in Men (METSIM) study. That means that the men had metabolic syndrome (they were pre-diabetic), but none of them were yet diabetic at the beginning of the study. Other important characteristics of the study were:

  • This was a healthy cross-section of the Finnish population. Only 24.5% of the study participants were using statin drugs.
  • The diagnosis of diabetes was based on multiple criteria: fasting blood glucose levels, an oral glucose tolerance test, and hemoglobin A1c (a measure of blood sugar control over the last 6 weeks).

As you might suspect, the increased risk of developing diabetes during the 6-year trial was greatest for those who were older, more obese, less physically active and had more advanced metabolic syndrome at the beginning of the study. What was surprising, however, were the other conclusions of the study.

  • Statin treatment increased the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 46%, and the increased risk of developing diabetes directly correlated with the dose of the statin drug.
  • Insulin sensitivity was decreased by 24% and insulin secretion was decreased by 12% in individuals on statin treatment. In layman’s terms that means the pancreas was 12% less able to release insulin and tissues in the body were 24% less able to respond to insulin. That’s a double whammy!

Even though this study is a significant improvement over previous studies, it does have some limitations of its own.

  • The study population was exclusively white, Finnish men. The conclusions may not apply to other population groups.
  • Simvastin (Zocor) and atorvastatin (Lipitor) were the most widely used statin drugs in this study (84% of the study participants taking statins were on one of these two drugs). These two statins clearly increased the risk of developing diabetes in a dose-dependent manner. There were not enough subjects on the other statin drugs to evaluate their effect on diabetes risk, but previous studies have suggested that other statins may be less prone to increase diabetes risk.

Should You Take Statins If you are Diabetic or Pre-Diabetic?

statins and diabetesLet’s start by identifying the symptoms of metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes. They are:

 

  • Abdominal obesity (waist size of greater than 35” for women & 40” for men)
  • Slightly elevated triglycerides (greater than 150 mg/dl)
  • Low HDL cholesterol (less than 50 mg/dl for women and 40 mg/dl for men)
  • Slightly elevated blood pressure (greater than 130/85
  • Slightly elevated blood sugar (greater than 100 mg/dl fasting blood glucose)

If you have three or more of these symptoms, you likely have metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes.

The medical profession and the pharmaceutical industry are circling their wagons and assuring us that the benefits of taking statins clearly outweigh the risks – even if you are diabetic or pre-diabetic. I’m not so sure

The problem is that the benefits of statin therapy in healthy individuals who have not had a heart attack are modest at best. This sets up a real “Catch 22” situation. Diabetes and pre-diabetes increase the risk of heart disease, so current guidelines recommend that statin drugs should be prescribed for individuals who are pre-diabetic or diabetic. However, we now know that those very same statin drugs increase the risk of you becoming diabetic if you are already pre-diabetic. Because they decrease insulin production and increase insulin resistance they may also make your diabetes worse if you are already diabetic, but that has not been directly tested.

That is concerning because diabetes can lead to very serious complications such as neuropathy (numbness in the extremities), kidney disease & kidney failure, high blood pressure and stroke, and cataracts & glaucoma. Of course, you can always use diabetes medications to counteract the diabetes-enhancing effect of the statins, but those medications also have serious side effects. The pharmaceutical merry-go-round continues!

Are There Alternatives For Reducing the Risk Of Heart Disease?

alternative is eat healthyIf statins are only modestly effective at reducing the risk of heart disease in otherwise healthy individuals and they significantly increase the risk of developing diabetes, it is perhaps prudent to ask whether there are alternative, non-drug approaches that can significantly reduce your cholesterol levels and allow you to avoid statins altogether?

According to the National Heart Lung & Blood Institute the answer to that question is a resounding yes! They call it Therapeutic Lifestyle Change or TLC (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/resources/heart/cholesterol-tlc). The TLC recommendations are:

  • Eat less than 7 percent of your daily calories from saturated fat
  • Eat less than 200 mg a day of cholesterol
  • Get only 25–35 percent of daily calories from total fat (this includes saturated fat calories)
  • Other diet options you can use for more LDL lowering are:
    • Add 2 grams per day of plant stanols or sterols
    • Add 10–25 grams per day of soluble fiber
  • Consume only enough calories to reach or maintain a healthy weight
  • In addition, you should get at least 30 minutes of a moderate intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, on most, and preferably all, days of the week.

The NHLB Institute recommends that the TLC approach always be tried first, and that statins only be used if the lifestyle approach fails – a message that seems to have gotten lost in the translation in many doctor’s offices.

I have also discussed some natural alternatives in my previous articles such as “Does An Apple A Day Keep Statins Away?” (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/apple-day-keep-statins-away/) and “Is Fish Oil Really Snake Oil?” (https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com/fish-oil-really-snake-oil/).

What Should You Do?

Perhaps it is time to have a serious discussion with your doctor about following the National, Heart Blood & Ling Institute’s TLC recommendations – either as an alternative to statins or as something that will allow your doctor to reduce the amount of statins that your need to take.

I also recommend that you make lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and either oily fish or fish oil supplements part of your regular diet.

The old professor is just like the rest of you. My cholesterol gets a bit high from time to time and my doctor suggests going on a statin. Instead I ramp up my exercise, watch what I eat a bit more carefully, and use a supplementation program that includes stanols, sterols and omega-3 fatty acids.

My cholesterol gets back to where it is supposed to be. My doctor is happy, and I am happy.

 

The Bottom Line

  • The news about statin drugs keeps getting worse. Not only are they only marginally effective in healthy people who have not yet had a heart attack, but the latest study suggests that they may increase the risk of developing diabetes by up to 46%.
  • That is concerning because the complications of diabetes can be quite serious, and diabetes drugs have side effects of their own.
  • In addition to the TLC program I recommend lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, oily fish or fish oil supplements, and a supplement that provides the TLC-recommended 2,000 mg of plant stanols and sterols.

If you have been prescribed statin drugs, it may be time to make a serious commitment to the TLC lifestyle change and have a discussion with your physician about reducing or eliminating your statins. This is especially true if you are already pre-diabetic or diabetic.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (5)

  • Doreen Harrison

    |

    I think your ‘Health Tips From The Professo’r is fantastic., I hope you don/t mind that I use a lot of your info in my newsletters to my downline.
    I quote you as the authority with your qualifications.
    Keep these coming – the world needs to know. Too many drugs are being used these days. Just make people sicker.

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Doreen,
      I don’t mind you using my health tips as long as you acknowledge the source and do not change the content. Something as simple as leaving a few words or a sentence out can sometimes substantially alter the meaning.
      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

  • Bruce

    |

    Excellent article and worthy of being read by all. As a cancer survivor of 17 years I wish the mainstream media would print articles like this on a regular basis – we are not told the facts by the media – they are afraid of losing revenue from advertising. Would the government (us) ever provide this information – only in a place that no consumer ever goes to. We need more good articles like this.

    Reply

  • Caroline

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    I remember my mother calling to say she had been 2 weeks in hospital due to overdose. In questioning her, I found the SAME doctor had her on 14 meds. I called him direct and told him no way, Jose, and he then reduced her to two and finally to one. As a health consultant, I find it insulting that Big Pharma has such control of doctors, etc. As a health consultant and acupuncturist, it makes me even madder and sadder because Western Medicine is not well informed on so many health issues, i.e., hormones, or even the fact that for over 3 years we have known that the older patients (55+) need to have their BP at 140/90 to get blood to their heads to avoid imbalance, headaches, poor memory, dizziness and/or vertigo, while in Chinese medicine this is known as blood def. and we take care of it. Every medicine is a possible danger in one way or another, but combining them is pure stupidity and to me, homicide if not suicide of a patient.

    Reply

  • Deb Villarese

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    ….and may I add that if you have senior parents, it is essential that you advocate for them. When my Dad was on 9 with an optional 2, and I “demanded” after passing out 3 times that they pick the (2) that would benefit him and get rid of the rest for a while the DR reluctantly went along with it because I was just adamant. 10 days later, We meet with the physician and he outwardly says to me, ” you know, I actually see that your Dad is doing better…. this really surprises me because i thought the medications were benefiting him and I thought I would be proving a point that he needed them” WOW! He’s only on 3 today…and he’s doing so much better. Be a voice for those you love… you might save their life.

    Reply

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Latest Article

Should You Avoid Sugar Completely?

Posted October 24, 2017 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Is It The Sugar, Or Is It The Food?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Should we avoid sugar completely?  Almost every expert agrees that Americans should cut down on the amount of sugar we are consuming. However, for some people this has become a “sugar phobia”. They have sworn that “sugar shall never touch their lips”. Not only do they avoid sugar sweetened sodas and junk food, but they also have become avid label readers. They scour the label of every food they see and reject foods they find any form of sugar listed as an ingredient. Is this degree of sugar avoidance justified?

 

Should We Avoid Sugar to Keep it From Killing Us?

 

Let me add some perspective:

  • If you just take studies about the dangers of sugar at face value, sugar does, indeed, look dangerous. Excess sugar consumption is associated with increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. However, when you look a little closer, you find that most of these studies have been done by looking at the correlation of each of these conditions with sugar sweetened beverage consumption (sodas and fruit juices).

A few studies have looked at the correlation of obesity and disease with total “added sugar” consumption. However, 71.6% of added sugar in the American diet comes from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food. None of the studies have looked at the sugar from healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. That’s because there is ample evidence that these foods decrease the risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

  • For example, if apples had a nutrition label, it would list 16 grams of sugar in a medium 80 calorie apple, which corresponds to about 80% of the calories in that apple. The sugar in an apple is about the same proportion of fructose and glucose found in high fructose corn syrup. Apples are not unique. The nutrition label would read about the same on most other fruits. Does that mean you should avoid sugar from all fruits? I think not.

Avoid Sugar or Avoid Certain Foods

 

avoid sugar from junk foodsThe obvious question is: “Why are the same sugars, in about the same amounts, unhealthy in sodas and healthy in fruits?” Let’s go back to those studies I just mentioned—the ones that are often used to vilify sugars. They are all association studies, the association of sugar intake with obesity and various diseases.

The weakness of association studies is the association could be with something else that is tightly correlated with the variable (sugar intake) that you are measuring. Could it be the food that is the problem, not the sugar?

If we look at healthy foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) they are chock full of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, and (sometimes) protein. Fiber and protein slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. As a result, blood sugar levels rise slowly and are sustained at relatively low levels for a substantial period of time.

In sodas there is nothing to slow the absorption of blood sugar. You get rapid rise in blood sugar followed by an equally rapid fall. The same is true of junk foods consisting primarily of sugar, refined flour and/or fat.  Avoid sugar from those types of foods.

Another consideration is something called caloric density. Here is a simple analogy. I used to explain the concept of caloric density to medical students in my teaching days. There are about the same number of calories in a 2-ounce candy bar and a pound of apples (around 278 in the 2-ounce candy bar and 237 in a pound of apples). You can eat a 2-ounce candy bar and still be hungry. If you eat a pound of apples you are done for a while. In this example, the 2-ounce candy bar had a high caloric density (a lot of calories in a small package). Perhaps a more familiar terminology would be the candy bar was just empty calories.

Are Sodas and Junk Foods Killing Us?

avoid sugar from candyPutting all that together, you can start to understand why the foods the sugars are in are more important than the sugars themselves. When you consume sugars in the form of sugar sweetened beverages or sugary junk foods, your appetite increases. We don’t know for sure whether it is the intense sweetness of those foods, the rapid increase and fall in blood sugar, or the high caloric density (lots of calories ina small package) that makes us hungrier. It doesn’t matter. We crave more food, and it isn’t usually fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates we crave. It’s more junk. That sets in motion a predictable sequence of events.

  • We overeat. Those excess calories are stored as fat and we become obese. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you our fat stores come from carbohydrates alone. That is incorrect. All excess calories, whether from protein, fat, or carbohydrate, are stored as fat.]
  • It’s not just the fat you can see (belly fat) that is the problem. Some of that fat builds up in our liver and muscles. This sets up an unfortunate sequence of metabolic events.
  • The fat stores release inflammatory cytokines into our bloodstream. That causes inflammation. Inflammation increases the risk of many diseases including heart disease and cancer.
  • The fat stores also cause our cells to become resistant to insulin. That reduces the ability of our cells to take up glucose, which leads to hyperglycemia and type 2 diabetes. [Note: The low carb enthusiasts will tell you carbohydrates cause type 2 diabetes. That is also incorrect. It is our fat stores that cause insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Our fat stores come from all excess calories, not just excess calories from carbohydrates.]
  • Insulin resistance also causes the liver to overproduce cholesterol and triglycerides and pump them into the bloodstream. That increases the risk of heart disease.
  • Sugar sweetened beverages and sugary junk foods also displace healthier foods from our diet. That leads to potential nutrient shortfalls that can increase our risk of many diseases.

However, none of this has to happen. The one thing that every successful diet has in common is the elimination of sodas, junk foods, fast foods and convenience foods. You should avoid sugar from those foods as much as possible. Once you eliminate those from your diet,you significantly enhance your chances of being at a healthy weight and being healthy long term.

 

What About Protein Supplements And Similar Foods?

Of course, the dilemma is what you, as an intrepid label reader, should do about protein supplements, meal replacement bars, or snack bars. They are supposed to be healthy, but the label lists one or more sugars. Even worse, the sugar content is higher than your favorite health guru recommends.  So, should you avoid sugar from supplements and the like?

In this case, a more useful concept is glycemic index, which is a measure of the effect of the food on your blood sugar levels. Healthy foods like apples may have a high sugar content, but they havea low glycemic index.

avoid sugar and consume protein to slow absorbptionThe same is true for the protein supplements and bars you are considering. Rather than looking at the sugar content, you should be looking for the term “low glycemic” on the label. That means there is enough fiber and protein in the food to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and stabilize your blood sugar levels.

What Does This Mean For You?

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should work on ways to avoid sugar or reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners. I have warned about the dangers of artificial sweeteners previously.

We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. For example, some Starbucks drinks are mostly sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

So we don’t have to avoid sugar completely, but we should reduce sugar from sugar sweetened beverages and junk food.

 

The Bottom Line

 

We need to keep warnings about the dangers of sugar in perspective:

  • The studies showing that sugar consumption leads to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease have all been done with sodas and junk foods.
  • Many fruits have just as much sugar as a soda. They also contain about the same proportion of fructose and glucose as high fructose corn syrup. Yet we know fruits are good for us.
  • Diets rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains decrease our risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • That is because the sugar in whole foods is generally present along with fiber and protein, which slows the absorption of sugar and prevents the blood sugar spikes we get with sodas and junk foods.
  • In the case of prepared foods like protein supplements, you should look for “low glycemic” on the label rather than sugar content. Low glycemic means that there is enough fiber and protein in the product to slow the absorption of sugar and prevent blood sugar spikes.
  • Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating for unlimited consumption of sugar. We should all work on ways to avoid sugar from junk foods or to reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. On the other hand, we don’t need to become so strict that we and our family need to eat foods that taste like cardboard. We also don’t want to replace natural sugars with artificial sweeteners.
  • We can go a long way towards reducing sugar by just eliminating sodas, other sugar sweetened beverages, junk foods, fast foods, convenience foods, and pastries from our diet. When considering fast foods and convenience foods, we should check the label for hidden sugar. When considering foods that are supposed to be healthy, we should look for the term “low glycemic” on the label.

For more details, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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