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Should you stop taking your statin? That might be a good question to discuss with your doctor in light of recent research.

Millions of Americans take statins every day to reduce their risk of heart trouble. But a new study suggests statins may increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

How statins help

Statins are a group of different medicines that all do the same thing: reduce high cholesterol levels in the bloodstream.

Cholesterol is a substance your body makes to help it function properly. Everyone needs some cholesterol, but too much can lead to dangerous buildups of plaque in the arteries. That could cause a heart attack or stroke.

High cholesterol is a widespread problem, especially as people get older. The cholesterol-lowering benefits of statins are well proven, so they are a powerful and important medicine for heart health.

Statins are also believed to help reduce inflammation in the body and improve circulation. That should reduce the risk of diabetes, not raise it. Surprisingly, that’s not what the new study found.

New findings

The research, published in BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care, analyzed data on more than 3,200 people from across the United States who had a high risk of diabetes. All were overweight or obese and had elevated blood sugar levels that were not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes.

Over a 10-year period, people in the test group who took statins had a 30 percent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who didn’t use statins. The results were about the same whether statin users took large or small doses.

This study is not the first to link statins and diabetes, but it is the first to find that even people with a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes may further increase their risk by taking statins. That implies the problem may be more serious than previously known.

Past controversy

Over the past decade, research about statins and type 2 diabetes has produced mixed results—and vigorous debate. Some studies found an apparent link, while others did not.

Complicating this, some of the studies were primarily researching cardiovascular problems, not diabetes. That made it difficult to pinpoint the apparent diabetes risk that sometimes turned up.

Experts disagreed about whether there was enough evidence to incriminate statin drugs—especially since they are proven life savers. Some argued that better studies were needed to settle the issue.

The new study helps to do that. But it was only designed to look for a link between statins and diabetes—it can’t prove cause and effect. Further research is still needed, and for now, experts may continue to disagree.

What should you do?

If you take a statin and you’re concerned about this possible risk, don’t stop taking your medicine without talking to your doctor. The heart benefits of statins are so strong and well proven that the new study doesn’t recommend anyone stop taking them. Instead, the authors recommend people who take statins should be monitored for the development of diabetes.

> Bonus tip: You might take a statin and not know it. Statin drugs are sold under a variety of brand names including Lipitor, Crestor, Pravachol, and Zocor, among others. Statins are also available as generics, including atorvastatin, simvastatin, rosuvastatin, and pravastatin. Sometimes doctors just call them “cholesterol pills” when talking with patients. Ask your physician if you’re not sure whether one of your prescription medicines is a statin.

Does the new research change how you feel about taking a statin? Share your thoughts by commenting below.