Tag Archives: diabetic drugs

What’s Wrong With Drugs for Diabetes?

paleobetic diet, low-carb diet, diabetic diet

How about this one?

MedPageToday has an article on the “Bittersweet Diabetes Economy” talking about the cost of treating diabetes, Big Pharma influence on diagnosis and treatment of diabetes and prediabetes, and the unknown long-term effectiveness of diabetes drugs. Most of the article pertains to type 2 diabetes. A quote:

Last year, sales of diabetes drugs reached $23 billion [worldwide or U.S.?], according to the data from IMS Health, a drug market research firm. That was more than the combined revenue of the National Football League, Major League Baseball, and the National Basketball Association.

But from 2004 to 2013, none of the 30 new diabetes drugs that came on the market were proven to improve key outcomes, such as reducing heart attacks or strokes, blindness, or other complications of the disease, an investigation by MedPage Today and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved all of those drugs based on a surrogate endpoint: the ability to lower blood sugar. Many of the new drugs have dubious benefit; some can be harmful.

Another key outcome we don’t know about is prevention or postponement of death via drug therapy for type 2 diabetes.

Now you have some inkling of why I exhort my patients to maximize diet and exercise interventions before resorting to drugs, increasing drug dosages, or adding more drugs. (I’m not talking about type 1 diabetes here.)


Steve Parker, M.D.

low-carb mediterranean diet

Front cover of book

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How To Recognize and Treat Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)

Insulin and sulfonylurea drugs are common causes of hypoglycemia

Insulin and sulfonylurea drugs are common causes of hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is the biggest immediate risk for a diabetic on drugs starting a carbohydrate-restricted diet such as the Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet. Traditional calorie-restricted diets also have the potential to cause hypoglycemia.


Your personal physician and other healthcare team members should teach you how to recognize and manage hypoglycemia.  Hypoglycemial means an abnormally low blood sugar (under 60–70 mg/dl or 3.33–3.89 mmol/l) associated with symptoms such as weakness, malaise, anxiety, irritability, shaking, sweating, hunger, fast heart rate, blurry vision, difficulty concentrating, or dizziness. Symptoms often start suddenly and without obvious explanation. If not recognized and treated, hypoglycemia can lead to incoordination, altered mental status (fuzzy thinking, disorientation, confusion, odd behavior, lethargy), loss of consciousness, seizures, and even death (rare).

You can imagine the consequences if you develop fuzzy thinking or lose consciousness while driving a car, operating dangerous machinery, or scuba diving.


Immediate early stage treatment involves ingestion of glucose as the preferred treatment—15 to 20 grams. You can get glucose tablets or paste at your local pharmacy without a prescription. Other carbohydrates will also work: six fl oz (180 ml) sweetened fruit juice, 12 fl oz (360 ml) milk, four tsp (20 ml) table sugar mixed in water, four fl oz (120 ml) soda pop, candy, etc. Fifteen to 30 grams of glucose or other carbohydrate should do the trick. Hypoglycemic symptoms respond within 20 minutes.

If level of consciousness is diminished such that the person cannot safely swallow, he will need a glucagon injection. Non-medical people can be trained to give the injection under the skin or into a muscle. Ask your doctor if you are at risk for severe hypoglycemia. If so, ask him for a prescription so you can get an emergency glucagon kit from a pharmacy.

Some people with diabetes, particularly after having the condition for many years, lose the ability to detect hypoglycemia just by the way they feel. This “hypoglycemia unawareness” is obviously more dangerous than being able to detect and treat hypoglycemia early on. Blood sugar levels may continue to fall and reach a life-threatening degree. Hypoglycemia unawareness can be caused by impairment of the nervous system (autonomic neuropathy) or by beta blocker drugs prescribed for high blood pressure or heart disease. People with hypoglycemia unawareness need to check blood sugars more frequently, particularly if driving a car or operating dangerous machinery.

Do not assume your sugar is low every time you feel a little hungry, weak, or anxious. Use your home glucose monitor for confirmation when able.

If you do experience hypoglycemia, discuss management options with your doctor: downward medication adjustment, shifting meal quantities or times, adjustment of exercise routine, eating more carbohydrates, etc. If you’re trying to lose weight or control high blood sugars, reducing certain diabetic drugs makes more sense than eating more carbs. Eating at regular intervals three or four times daily may help prevent hypoglycemia. Spreading carbohydrate consumption evenly throughout the day may help. Someone most active during daylight hours as opposed to nighttime will generally do better eating carbs at breakfast and lunch rather than concentrating them at bedtime.


Diabetics considering or following a low-carb or very-low-carb ketogenic diet must work closely with their personal physician and dietitian, especially to avoid hypoglycemia caused by certain classes of diabetic drugs. Two common diabetes drug classes that cause hypoglycemia are the insulins and sulfonylureas. More are listed below. Those who don’t know the class of their diabetic medication should ask their physician or pharmacist.

Clinical experience with thousands of patients has led to generally accepted guidelines that help avoid hypoglycemia in diabetics on medications.

Diabetics and prediabetics not being treated with pills or insulin rarely need to worry about hypoglycemia.

Similarly, diabetics treated only with diet, metformin, colesevalam, and/or an alpha-glucosidase inhibitor (acarbose, miglitol) should not have much, if any, trouble with hypoglycemia. The DPP4-inhibitors (sitagliptan and saxagliptin) do not seem to cause low glucose levels, whether used alone or combined with metformin or a thiazoladinedione.

Thiazolidinediones by themselves cause hypoglycemia in only 1 to 3% of users, but might cause a higher percentage in people on a reduced calorie diet. Bromocriptine may slightly increase the risk of hypoglycemia.


Type 2 diabetics are at risk for hypoglycemia if they use the following drug classes. Also listed are a few of the individual drugs in some classes:

■  insulin

■  sulfonylureas: glipizide, glyburide, glimiperide, chlorpropamide, acetohexamide, tolbutamide

■  meglitinides: repaglinide, nateglinide

■  pramlintide plus insulin

■  exenatide plus sulfonylurea

■  possibly thiazolidinediones: pioglitazone, rosiglitazone

■  possibly bromocriptine

Open wide!

Open wide!

Remember, drugs have both generic and brand names. The names vary from country to country, as well as by manufacturer. If you have any doubt about whether your diabetic drug has the potential to cause hypoglycemia, ask your physician or pharmacist.


Common management strategies for diabetics on the preceding drugs and starting a very-low-carb diet include:

■  reduce the insulin dose by half

■  change short-acting insulin to long-acting (such as glargine)

■  stop the sulfonylurea, or reduce dose by half

■  reduce the thiazolidinedione by half

■  stop the meglitinide, or reduce the dose by half

■  monitor blood sugars frequently, such as four times daily, at least until a stable pattern is established

■  spread what few carbohydrates are eaten evenly throughout the day

Management also includes frequent monitoring of glucose levels with a home glucose monitor, often four to six times daily. Common measurement times are before meals and at bedtime. It may be helpful to occasionally wake at 3 AM and check a sugar level. To see the effect of a particular food or meal on glucose level, check it one or two hours after eating. Keep a record. When eating patterns are stable, and blood sugar levels are reasonable and stable, monitoring can be done less often. When food consumption or exercise habits change significantly, check sugar levels more often.

If you’re thinking that many type 2 diabetics on low-carb and very-low-carb ketogenic diets use fewer diabetic medications, you’re right. That’s probably a good thing since the long-term side effects of many of the drugs we use are unknown. Remember Rezulin (troglitazone)? Introduced in 1997, it was pulled off the U.S. market in 2001 because of fatal liver toxicity. More recently, rosiglitazone usage has been highly restricted due to concern for heart toxicity.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Avoid Drug Toxicity By Avoiding Drugs

David Mendosa over at Diabetes Developments writes about avoiding diabetes drug toxicity with low-carb eating.

Steve Parker, M.D.


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Yet Another Diabetes Drug: Linagliptin

On May 2, 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of linagliptin for adults with type 2 diabetes.  It’s in the class called DPP-4 inhibitors.  You’ll see it sold in the U.S. as Tradjenta

How do they come up with names like Tradjenta?  The manufacturer wants it unique, so there are no claims of copyright infringement.  You also want to avoid sounding like another drug on the market, to avoid mixing up the drugs.  A committee is usually involved to consider all the angles, especially marketing.

How Does Linagliptin Work?

It’s complicated.  It inhibits an enzyme, dipeptidyl peptidase-4, ultimately leading to insulin release from the pancreas into the bloodstream, and lowered glucagon levels. 

Any Side Effects?

Linagliptin may slightly increase the risk of pancreatitis.  It seems to be pretty well tolerated overall, with the most common adverse effects being a runny or stuffy nose, or sore throat.  When given with an insulin secretagogue drug, like sulfonylureas, linagliptin can increase the odds of hypoglycemia.  Due to an interaction, it’s best not to use linagliptin with rifampin.

What’s the Dose?

Only one: 5 mg by mouth daily.  No need to adjust the dosage for underlying kidney or liver disease or age.


It’s for adults with type 2 diabetes.  It may be used as the sole diabetic drug along with diet and exercise.  It can also be used in combination with metformin, a sulfonylurea, or pioglitazone.  It’s not been studied in people taking insulin, in pregnancy, or in nursing mothers, so it’s best to avoid those settings for now.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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