Doctors have been prescribing drugs to people with type 2 diabetes for decades. The goal has been to lower blood sugar levels and prevent the complications of diabetes. Many of those meds helped control blood glucose, but surprisingly few were shown to prevent heart attacks and delay death. A new Study shows one of the oldest and least expensive drugs is a winner: metformin saves lives (Diabetes Care, June, 2017).
Heart Disease and Diabetes:
Heart disease is the major cause of death among people with diabetes. The question naturally arises whether controlling blood sugar helps reduce the risk. Most health professionals assumed that if you successfully controlled blood glucose premature death could be prevented. They were forced to rethink that assumption nearly 50 years ago.
The UGDP Boondoggle:
In 1970, a long-term study carried out on more than 800 diabetes patients at twelve university medical centers shook the medical profession to its foundation. Two of the most common drugs to treat type 2 diabetes were tested.
One was tolbutamide (Orinase) and the other was phenformin (DBI or Meltrol). During the study, which lasted from three to eight years, it was determined that the patients receiving these two drugs seemed to be more prone to heart attacks and related heart problems than those patients who were being treated by diet alone or by insulin.
In fact, because this study, sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, discovered that the patients on tolbutamide were twice as prone to develop heart trouble as the non drug controls, the investigation had to be terminated before completion.
Not surprisingly, the findings of this trial were highly controversial. Many health professionals were outraged that the study was stopped. They called for intense scrutiny of the data. An analysis published in JAMA (Feb. 10, 1975) reaffirmed the original results and went further. The highly regard investigators concluded if drug companies developed new oral diabetes drugs they needed to “conduct scientifically adequate studies to justify the continued use of such agents.”
More than 40 years later we have little evidence that modern diabetes medicines produce desirable outcomes. Yes, they lower blood sugar. But do they reduce the likelihood that patients with type 2 diabetes will have fewer heart attacks and strokes? Will the newest generation of diabetes drugs improve mortality stats? Mostly, the answer appears to be no.
Are New Diabetes Drugs Better?
Over the last 20 years there have been lots of new diabetes drugs. You have undoubtedly seen the commercials on TV. Inevitably they are far more expensive than older generic medications like metformin. Some analysts put the price tag of the newest generation diabetes drugs at 10 to 100 times the older medications. Are they worth the cost? Here is a link to our thoughts on this question.
Metformin Saves Lives!
The history of metformin dates back to the 1920s and a folk medicine called French lilac (Galego officials). You can read about this very old drug at this link. Learn about the anti-cancer benefits of metformin at this link.
Metform Saves Lives by Reducing Heart Attacks:
Scientists have wondered whether diabetes drugs can actually lower the number of heart attacks. More importantly, is there any evidence that metformin saves lives?
Danish investigators tackled those questions by collecting data on everyone in northern Denmark who got an initial prescription for metformin between 2000 and 2012 (Diabetes Care, June, 2017). They also looked at HbA1C, a measure of blood sugar over time.
Those whose HbA1c dropped the most in the first six months were less likely than other people with diabetes to experience a heart attack or stroke. They were also less likely to die from those cardiovascular complications.
The Bottom Line on Metformin:
This very old diabetes medicine is one of the least expensive drugs in the drugstore. Not only does it help lower blood sugar, it appears to reduce the risk of complications associated with diabetes. In addition, metformin may lower the risk of several serious cancers including breast cancer, liver cancer, thyroid cancer, pancreatic cancer, colorectal cancer and prostate cancer1 and prostate cancer2. If you want to learn more about the pros and cons of metformin, here is a link to a comprehensive article we have written on this subject.
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