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Statins linked to increased risk of skin infections and diabetes, study finds

Media release

People who used statin medication for as little as three months may have an increased risk of getting skin and soft tissue infections and diabetes, new Curtin University-led research has found.

Person checking blood sugar levels

The research, published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, examined prescription claims from 2001 to 2011 from the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs to determine whether there was a link between statins, skin infections, and new-onset diabetes.

Lead author PhD candidate Mr Humphrey Ko, from Curtin’s School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences and the Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute (CHIRI), said although statins are commonly prescribed by health professionals around the world to treat cardiovascular diseases, there is increasing interest that these medications may also benefit other medical conditions.

Staphylococcus aureus, also known as S. aureus, is a major cause of bacterial skin infections and statins have been reported to exert antibacterial effects against S. aureus, as well as reduce the risk of S. aureus-related blood infections. As such, it seemed plausible that statins may prove beneficial in S. aureus-related skin infections. However, statins may also induce new-onset diabetes mellitus, a condition which in turn is a risk factor for skin infections,” Mr Ko said.

“In light of the conflicting research on this topic, our study evaluated prescriptions for statins, antidiabetic medication, and antistaphylococcal antibiotics, investigating their interrelationships at three, six, and 12 months of use.

“We discovered that the use of statins for as little as three months was associated with an increased risk of diabetes and skin and soft tissue infections. We also found that the increased risk of skin infections appeared unbiased by diabetes or socioeconomic status.”

Mr Ko explained that the findings have important implications for health care professionals around the world who regularly prescribe statin medication for patients with cardiovascular medical conditions.

“The widespread use of statins will likely continue with guidelines across the world recommending statin use for prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Hence, there is a need for clinicians to be mindful that statin use may also be associated with diabetes, as well as a possible increased risk of skin infections. Statin users who are predisposed to diabetes would likely benefit from blood glucose monitoring,” Mr Ko said.

“Further research is needed to verify the link between statins and diabetes, statins and skin infections, as well as the influence of statins’ effect on human gut bacteria, vitamin D levels, and cholesterol inhibition on skin function.”

Mr Ko completed the research as part of the Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship. Data for the study was accessed through the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

The research was co-authored by Dr Ricky Lareu, Dr Brett Dix, and Professor Jeffery Hughes from the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences at Curtin University, and Dr Richard Parsons from the School of Occupational Therapy, Social Work and Speech Pathology at Curtin University.

The research paper, titled, ‘A sequence symmetry analysis of the interrelationships between statins, diabetes and skin infections,’ can be found online here.