Common Drugs Cut Diabetes Nerve Damage
2 Drug Types Lower Cholesterol and Risk of Nerve Damage in Hands, Feet
June 22, 2007 -- Two different kinds of cholesterol-lowering drugs may lower
the risk of nerve damage in the hands and feet of people with diabetes.
It's a condition known as peripheral neuropathy. Symptoms -- pain, tingling,
weakness, or numbness in the feet and hands -- afflict at least half of people
Now there's preliminary evidence that so-called "lipid-lowering
drugs" might protect people with diabetes from peripheral neuropathy.
The drug classes are statins (Lipitor, Lescol, Mevacor, Pravachol, Crestor,
and Zocor) and fibrates (Lopid, Gemcor, and Tricor). These drugs are often
prescribed to people with diabetes to lower cholesterol and blood fats.
Timothy Davis, MD, PhD, of the University of Western Australia, and
colleagues tracked 400 people with type 2 diabetes who, at the time the study
began, had no sign of peripheral neuropathy. Over five years, 63% of these
patients -- about 12% a year -- developed the condition.
Yet those who started lipid-lowering therapy with statins (mostly Zocor,
Pravachol, and Lipitor) or fibrates (mostly Lopid or Gemcor) were less likely
to suffer peripheral neuropathy.
"Lipid lowering does affect neuropathy," Davis tells WebMD. "The
protection was 35% for statins and 48% for fibrates -- statistically the same
protection -- and these effects were independent of blood sugar control,
height, age, other things associated with neuropathy."
Davis presented the findings at the American Diabetes Association's 67th
Annual Scientific Sessions, held June 22-26 in Chicago.
The findings, Davis notes, come from what scientists call an observational
study. That is, the researchers simply observed what happened and used
statistical tests to tease out possible causes. Only a clinical trial, in which
patient differences are carefully controlled -- and in which drugs are tested
against inactive placebos -- can prove whether a drug actually has a specific
All the same, Davis is convinced these effects are real. And he suggests
that the two different types of drugs may have different mechanisms of
"If you took both drugs, which is increasingly done for greater lipid
lowering, the benefit may be additive. But that is a conjecture," Davis
Peripheral neuropathy expert Aaron I. Vinik, MD, PhD, director of the
Strelitz Diabetes Research Institute in Norfolk, Va., says the Davis team's
findings may help answer questions that have been increasingly perplexing
"When I saw Dr. Davis's study I was very excited," Vinik said at a
news conference. "This may change the way we think about peripheral
neuropathy -- and maybe even lead to a treatment."
Vinik notes that only two drugs are approved to treat peripheral neuropathy
in diabetes -- and both drugs only help with the pain.
And there's another interesting thing about the Davis study, Vinik says.
"There are many reports about statins producing neuropathy, yet this
study says maybe they are good for you," he says.
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