Increased LDL Levels Found to Decrease Diabetes Risk, Increase Heart Disease Risk

Statin therapy not found to cause diabetes among patients with low levels of LDL cholesterol.

Findings from a recent study suggest that an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes while taking statins could potentially be caused by lower cholesterol, and not as a side effect of the drug.

Patients with genetic variants that cause lower low density lipoprotein (LDL) levels have a reduced risk of heart disease, but have an increased risk of diabetes, according to the study published by JAMA Cardiology.

In the study, researchers analyzed the effects of LDL cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides on heart disease and diabetes risks. It was found that patients with genetic variants that increase LDL cholesterol or triglyceride levels have a greater risk of heart disease, according to the study.

It was also found that patients with variants that increase LDL and HDL cholesterol, and potentially triglyceride levels, had a decreased risk of developing diabetes. Researchers believe their findings show why previous studies have found an increase in diabetes risk among patients taking statins to control their cholesterol.

Further studies are needed to examine how increased LDL cholesterol levels protect against diabetes, but increase the risk for heart disease.

“What we've shown in this study is that the role played by blood lipid levels in disease is a complex one. While the effect of taking LDL cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins may slightly increase a person's risk of developing diabetes this effect is greatly outweighed by their benefits in the form of preventing people from suffering from a life-altering heart attack or stroke,” said lead researcher Michael Holmes, MD, PhD. “This study has provided yet more evidence that having increased HDL cholesterol may not be beneficial to heart disease. Of novel interest, our findings suggest that there could be a potential role for therapies that increase HDL cholesterol in the treatment and prevention of diabetes.”