Scientists from University College London (UCL) and the University of Glasgow conducted a large scale analysis of data from previous clinical trials and genetic studies that tested the effect of statins on heart disease and stroke (major vascular events), those assigned statins vs. placebo, or higher vs. lower doses of statins.

They found patients taking statins experienced a modest 12% increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes over a four-year period, and gained around half a pound (240 grams) in weight on average.

The study findings indicate that the weight gain and diabetes risk observed in the analysis from trials are related to the known mechanism of action of statins rather than some other unintended effect.

“Weight gain is a risk factor for diabetes which might help explain the small increased risk of diabetes observed in people taking statins”, said co-lead author Dr David Preiss of the University of Glasgow Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences.

Professor Naveed Sattar of the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences and co-senior author of the study said: “Previous analyses have indicated that the cardiovascular benefits of statin treatment greatly outweigh the risk of new-onset type 2 diabetes.

“Nevertheless, many patients eligible for statin treatment would also benefit from lifestyle changes including increased physical activity, eating more healthily and stopping smoking. The modest increases in weight and diabetes risk seen in this study could easily be mitigated by adopting healthier diets and lifestyles. Reinforcing the importance of lifestyle changes when discussing these issues with patients would further enhance the benefit of statin treatment in preventing heart attacks and strokes.”

The study, published in The Lancet, received support from a number of funders including the Medical Research Council, British Heart Foundation, Rosetrees Trust and National Institute for Health Research University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre.


University of Glasgow: ‘Benefits of statins outweigh diabetes and weight-gain risk’

The Lancet: ‘HMG-coenzyme A reductase inhibition, type 2 diabetes, and bodyweight: evidence from genetic analysis and randomised trials’ Swerdlow et al.

University College London: ‘Modest effect of statins on diabetes risk and bodyweight related to mechanism of action’