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

    |

    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

A Low Carb Diet and Weight Loss

Posted January 15, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

low carb dietTraditional diets have been based on counting calories, but are all calories equal? Low-carb enthusiasts have long claimed that diets high in sugar and refined carbs cause obesity. Their hypothesis is based on the fact that high blood sugar levels cause a spike in insulin levels, and insulin promotes fat storage.

The problem is that there has been scant evidence to support that hypothesis. In fact, a recent meta-analysis of 32 published clinical studies (KD Hall and J Guo, Gastroenterology, 152: 1718-1727, 2017 ) concluded that low-fat diets resulted in a higher metabolic rate and greater fat loss than isocaloric low-carbohydrate diets.

However, low-carb enthusiasts persisted. They argued that the studies included in the meta-analysis were too short to adequately measure the metabolic effects of a low-carb diet. Recently, a study has been published in the British Medical Journal (CB Ebbeling et al, BMJ 2018, 363:k4583 ) that appears to vindicate their position.

Are low carb diets best for long term weight loss?

Low-carb enthusiasts claim the study conclusively shows that low-carb diets are best for losing weight and for keeping it off once you have lost it. They are saying that it is time to shift away from counting calories and from promoting low-fat diets and focus on low-carb diets instead if we wish to solve the obesity epidemic. In this article I will focus on three issues:

  • How good was the study?
  • What were its limitations?
  • Are the claims justified?

 

How Was The Study Designed?

low carb diet studyThe investigators started with 234 overweight adults (30% male, 78% white, average age 40, BMI 32) recruited from the campus of Framingham State University in Massachusetts. All participants were put on a diet that restricted calories to 60% of estimated needs for 10 weeks. The diet consisted of 45% of calories from carbohydrate, 30% from fat, and 25% from protein. [So much for the claim that the study showed low-carb diets were more effective for weight loss. The diet used for the weight loss portion of the diet was not low-carb.]

During the initial phase of the study 161 of the participants achieved 10% weight loss. These participants were randomly divided into 3 groups for the weight maintenance phase of the study.

  • The diet composition of the high-carb group was 60% carbohydrate, 20% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the moderate-carb group was 40% carbohydrate, 40% fat, and 20% protein.
  • The diet composition of the low-carb group was 20% carbohydrate, 60% fat, and 20% protein.

Other important characteristics of the study were:

  • The weight maintenance portion of the study lasted 5 months – much longer than any previous study.
  • All meals were designed by dietitians and prepared by a commercial food service. The meals were either served in a cafeteria or packaged to be taken home by the participants.
  • The caloric content of the meals was individually adjusted on a weekly basis so that weight was kept within a ± 4-pound range during the 5-month maintenance phase.
  • Sugar, saturated fat, and sodium were limited and kept relatively constant among the 3 diets.

120 participants made it through the 5-month maintenance phase.

 

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Maintain Weight Loss?

low carb diet maintain weight lossThe results were striking:

  • The low-carb group burned an additional 278 calories/day compared to the high-carb group and 131 calories/day more than the moderate-carbohydrate group.
  • These differences were even higher for those individuals with higher insulin secretion at the beginning of the maintenance phase of the study.
  • These differences lead the authors to hypothesize that low-carb diets might be more effective for weight maintenance than other diets.

 

What Are The Pros And Cons Of This Study?

low carb diet pros and consThis was a very well-done study. In fact, it is the most ambitious and well-controlled study of its kind. However, like any other clinical study, it has its limitations. It also needs to be repeated.

The pros of the study are obvious. It was a long study and the dietary intake of the participants was tightly controlled.

As for cons, here are the three limitations of the study listed by the authors:

#1: Potential Measurement Error: This section of the paper was a highly technical consideration of the method used to measure energy expenditure. Suffice it to say that the method they used to measure calories burned per day may overestimate calories burned in the low-carb group. That, of course, would invalidate the major findings of the study. It is unlikely, but it is why the study needs to be repeated using a different measure of energy expenditure.

#2: Compliance: Although the participants were provided with all their meals, there was no way of being sure they ate them. There was also no way of knowing whether they may have eaten other foods in addition to the food they were provided. Again, this is unlikely, but cannot be eliminated from consideration.

#3: Generalizability: This is simply an acknowledgement that the greatest strength of this study is also its greatest weakness. The authors acknowledged that their study was conducted in such a tightly controlled manner it is difficult to translate their findings to the real world. For example:

  • Sugar and saturated fat were restricted and were at very similar levels in all 3 diets. In the real world, people consuming a high-carb diet are likely to consume more sugar than people in the other diet groups. Similarly, people consuming the low-carb diet are likely to consume more saturated fat than people in the other diet groups.
  • Weight was kept constant in the weight maintenance phase by constantly adjusting caloric intake. Unfortunately, this seldom happens in the real world. Most people gain weight once they go off their diet – and this is just as true with low-carb diets as with other diets.
  • The participants had access to dietitian-designed prepared meals 3 times a day for 5 months. This almost never happens in the real world. The authors said “…these results [their data] must be reconciled with the long-term weight loss trials relying on nutrition education and behavioral counseling that find only a small advantage for low carbohydrate compared with low fat diets according to several recent meta-analyses.” [I would add that in the real world, people do not even have access to nutritional education and behavioral modification.]

 

low carb diet and youWhat Does This Study Mean For You?

  • This study shows that under very tightly controlled conditions (dietitian-prepared meals, sugar and saturated fat limited to healthy levels, calories continually adjusted so that weight remains constant) a low-carb diet burns more calories per day than a moderate-carb or high-carb diet. These findings show that it is theoretically possible to increase your metabolic weight and successfully maintain a healthy weight on a low-carb diet. These are the headlines you probably saw. However, a careful reading of the study provides a much more nuanced viewpoint. For example, the fact that the study conditions were so tightly controlled makes it difficult to translate these findings to the real world.
  • In fact, the authors of the study acknowledged that multiple clinical studies show this almost never happens in the real world. These studies show that most people regain the weight they have lost on low-carb diets. More importantly, the rate of weight regain is virtually identical on low-carb and low-fat diets. Consequently, the authors of the current study concluded “…translation [of their results to the real world] requires exploration in future mechanistic oriented research.” Simply put, the authors are saying that more research is needed to provide a mechanistic explanation for this discrepancy before one can make recommendations that are relevant to weight loss and weight maintenance in the real world.
  • The authors also discussed the results of their study in light of a recent, well-designed 12-month study (CD Gardener et al, JAMA, 319: 667-669, 2018 ) that showed no difference in weight change between a healthy low-fat versus a healthy low-carbohydrate diet. That study also reported that the results were unaffected by insulin secretion at baseline. The authors of the current study noted that “…[in the previous study] participants were instructed to minimize or eliminate refined grains and added sugars and maximize intake of vegetables. Probably for this reason, the reported glycemic load [effect of the diet on blood sugar levels] of the low-fat diet was very low…and similar to [the low-carb diet].” In short, the authors of the current study were acknowledging that diets which focus on healthy, plant-based carbohydrates and eliminate sugar, refined grains, and processed foods may be as effective as low-carb diets for helping maintain a healthy weight.
  • This would also be consistent with previous studies showing that primarily plant-based, low-carb diets are more effective at maintaining a healthy weight and better health outcomes long-term than the typical American version of the low-fat diet, which is high in sugar and refined grains. In contrast, meat-based, low-carb diets are no more effective than the American version of the low-fat diet at preventing weight gain and poor health outcomes. I have covered these studies in detail in my book “Slaying The Food Myths.”

Consequently, the lead author of the most recent study has said: “The findings [of this study] do not impugn whole fruits, beans and other unprocessed carbohydrates. Rather, the study suggests that reducing foods with added sugar, flour, and other refined carbohydrates could help people maintain weight loss….” This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.

The Bottom Line

 

  • A recent study compared the calories burned per day on a low-carb, moderate-carb, and high-carb diet. The study concluded that the low-carb diet burned significantly more calories per day than the other two diets and might be suitable for long-term weight control. If confirmed by subsequent studies, this would be the first real evidence that low-carb diets are superior for maintaining a healthy weight.
  • However, the study has some major limitations. For example, it used a methodology that may overestimate the benefits of a low-carb diet, and it was performed under tightly controlled conditions that can never be duplicated in the real world. As acknowledged by the authors, this study is also contradicted by multiple previous studies. Further studies will be required to confirm the results of this study and show how it can be applied in the real world.
  • In addition, the kind of carbohydrate in the diet is every bit as important as the amount of carbohydrate. The authors acknowledge that the differences seen in their study apply mainly to carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, and processed foods. They advocate diets with low glycemic load (small effects on blood sugar and insulin levels) and acknowledge this can also be achieved by incorporating low-glycemic load, plant-based carbohydrates into your diet. This is something we all can agree on, but strangely this is not reflected in the headlines you may have seen in the media.
  • Finally, clinical studies report averages, but none of us are average. When you examine the data from the current study, it is evident that some participants burned more calories per hour on the high-carb diet than other participants did on the low carb diet. That reinforces the observation that some people lose weight more effectively on low-carb diets while others lose weight more effectively on low-fat diets. If you are someone who does better on a low-carb diet, the best available evidence suggests you will have better long-term health outcomes on a primarily plant-based, low-carb diet such as the low-carb version of the Mediterranean diet.

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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