Tag Archives: diabetes drugs

Diabetes Consumes 7% of the UK’s Drug Budget

The BBC reports that drugs for diabetes account for 7% of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service’s prescription drug budget. 

They would spend less on diabetic drugs if more diabetics adhered to low-carb eating or the Mediterranean diet.  Better yet, combine both eating styles as in the Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Drug Review: Alpha-Glucosidase Inhibitors (acarbose and miglitol)

acarbose and miglitol for type 2 diabetesAlpha-glucosidase inhibitors (AGIs) available in the U.S. are acarbose (Precose) and miglitol (Glyset).  Drug names vary by country and manufacturer. 

This is only a brief review: consult your physician or pharmacist for full details.

How do they work?

Many of the carbohydrates we eat are just basic sugar molecules joined to each other by chemical bonds, creating disaccherides, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides.  This is as true for bread and potatoes as it is for table sugar.  To digest and absorb them, we have to break them down into the basic sugar molecules (monosaccharides).  AGIs inhibit this breakdown process inside our intestine, decreasing the rise in blood sugar after we eat complex carbohydrates.  They delay glucose absorption.  So AGIs mainly decrease after-meal glucose levels.     

Uses

They work alone or in combination with other diabetic medications, especially if the diet contains over 50% of energy in the form of complex carbohydrates.  They are FDA-approved only for use in type 2 diabetes, but they have also been used in type 1. 

Dosing

The starting dose is the same for both:  25 mg by mouth three times daily with the first bite of each main meal.

Side effects

Belly pain, intestinal gas, diarrhea.  Slight risk of hypoglycemia when its used alone; higher risk when used with insulin shots or insulin secretagogues.  If hypoglycemia occurs, you have to eat glucose to counteract it, not your usual non-glucose items because you won’t absorb them properly.   

Don’t use if you have . . .

. . . Liver cirrhosis (refers to acarbose: miglitol can be used), kidney impairment, or intestinal problems.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Drug Review: Thiazolidinediones (pioglitazone, rosiglitazone)

pioglitazone and rosiglitazone for type 2 diabetesThiazolidinediones are more easily referred to as TZDs or glitazones.  Compared to the usual first-choice drug for type 2 diabetes (metformin), the TZDs are significantly more expensive.

Remember that drug names—both generic and brand—may vary depending on country and manufacturer.  In the U.S., rosiglitazone is sold as Avandia; pioglitazone is Actos. This is just a brief overview: consult your physician or pharmacist for full details.

How do they work?

In short, TZDs increase glucose utilization  and decrease glucose production, leading to lower blood sugar levels.  They sensitize several tissues to the effect of insulin.  Insulin, among other actions, helps put circulating blood sugar into our muscles, fat cells, and (to a lesser extent) liver cells.  So blood sugar levels fall.  Thiazolidinediones (aka TZDs) make these tissues more sensitive to this effect of insulin.  Insulin also suppresses glucose production by the liver, an effect enhanced by TZDs.  They reduce insulin resistance.

TZDs may also help preserve pancreas beta cell function.  Beta cells produce insulin.

They reduce both fasting and after-meal glucose levels.  Fasting blood sugar drops and average of 40 mg/dl.  Hemoglobin A1c falls by 1 to 1.5% (absolute, not relative).

TZDs tend to improve blood lipids: lower triglycerides, higher HDL cholesterol, decreased small, dense LDL cholesterol.  Pioglitazone has the more pronouned effect.

On a cellular level, they activate peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma, so they are sometimes referred to as PPAR-gamma agonists.  Pioglitazone also affects PPAR-alpha.

Uses

TZDs can be used alone or in combination with insulin, metformin, and sulfonylureas in people with type 2 diabetes.

Dosing

Note that onset of action is delayed by several weeks, perhaps as many as 8-12 weeks.

Pioglitazone:  Start at 15-30 mg/day by mouth.  Maximum dose is 45 mg/day.

Rosiglitizone:  Start at 4 mg/day by mouth.  After 8-12 weeks, dose may be increased to 8 mg/day.

Side effects

Weight gain is fairly common, through both fluid retention and increase in fat tissue.  Weight gain with pioglitazone, for example, is around 6–12 pounds (3–5 kg).  Mild anemia and puffy feet and hands (edema from fluid retention) are also seen.  Fluid retention may ultimately cause congestive heart failure.  This drug-induced fluid retention does not respond very well to fluid pills (diuretics).

The combination of insulin injections and TZD may increase the risk of heart failure.

Some studies suggest that rosiglitazone increases the risk of heart attacks, heart failure, and death.  That’s why the Food and Drug Administration in 2011 drastically curtailed use of the drug. The FDA re-examined the date in 2013 and decided that rosiglitazone didn’t increase cardiovascular risk after all.

Preliminary data suggest a link between bladder cancer and pioglitazone.

TZDs are associated with increased risk for broken bones, perhaps doubling the risk.

Macular edema—manifested by blurry vision—may occur infrequently.

When used as the sole diabetic medication, TZDs do not cause hypglycemia.  But when used with insulin injections or insulin secretagogues, low blood sugar can occur.

Don’t use if you . . .

. . . have a significant degree of congestive heart failure or active liver disease.  Even a history of heart failure may be a reason to avoid TZDs.  TZDs should probably not be used in women with low bone density or anyone else prone to fractures.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Updated December 26, 2013

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