Post-menopausal women who take medication to lower their cholesterol face a higher risk of getting diabetes than women who do not take the popular drugs, known as statins, said a US study on Monday.
The risk was apparent even after researchers adjusted for variables such as age, race/ethnicity and body mass index, said the study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The link appeared regardless of what type of statin, or what dosage, the women were taking, said the study which included 153,000 women with an average age of 63.
The researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota called for more study on the matter but said in the meantime there was no need to revise the guidelines for statin use in non-diabetic people, pointing out that statins aim to fix the negative heart consequences of diabetes.
"Women who are taking statins should be aware of the need to check their blood sugars, along with their liver function tests," said Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women and heart disease at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York.
"Due to the extensive use of statins in the aging female population, it is critical that more studies are done to help understand the association with statins and the development of diabetes," added Steinbaum, who was not part of the study.
Statins have been dubbed "the aspirin of the 21st century" for their perceived benefits in cardiovascular health and relatively few side effects. Worldwide sales total more than $20 billion annually.
Popularly known names such as Lipitor, Pravachol, and Crestor are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the United States. About 42 million Americans suffer from high cholesterol.
The drugs help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by lowering a person's low-density lipoprotein (LDL), sometimes known as "bad cholesterol."
A review published by JAMA in June 2011 showed that high doses of statins were linked to higher numbers of new diabetes cases in patients, leaving doctors to balance the benefits and risks according to each individual patient.