It’s an astounding number: currently, 9 percent of Americans are diagnosed with some form of diabetes. That number is expected to rise to 33 percent by the year 2050. With Type 2, the most common form of the disease, either the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin or the body is resistant to properly using insulin to turn food into energy. New research in the field continues to contribute to more effective diabetes treatments.
Until recent years, diabetics relied on the tried and true method of either injecting themselves daily with insulin or taking oral pills that tricked the body into releasing its own insulin. As with almost all major diseases, biologic modification has created an onrush of new medicines to the market, most of which approach the particular problems faced by diabetics in a whole new way.
A New Class of Drugs
Approved for use in 2014, Invokana was the first in a new class of drugs targeted at diabetes. While previous generation medicines focused on various means of introducing insulin or stimulating the release of insulin into a malfunctioning body, drugs like Invokana actually block blood sugar (glucose) from kidney reabsorption, and excretes the excess in urine. The official name for this process is sodium-glucose co-transporter 2 (SGLT2). Thanks to the latest studies showing them to be effective in treating diabetes, several more drugs based on the same principles were soon on the market. Other SGLT2 inhibitors currently being sold include Farxiga and Jardiance.
One positive aspect to this new drug class is modest weight loss as excess glucose is peed away — perhaps as much as 5-10 pounds during the first year. With weight loss being one of the first things a doctor recommends to diabetics, SGLT2 inhibitors are a way to kill two birds with one stone.
Keep in mind, as with all drugs, there can be significant side effects. Your experience may differ from the pre-sales studies. Have a serious discussion with your doctor before embarking on any kind of new drug protocol.
A New Twist on an Old Idea
The drug Afrezza decided to try a new riff on the old theme of providing additional insulin to both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics. The new idea was that, rather than an injection, this medicine was a fast-acting inhalant taken with meals to control A1C levels (a standard test that shows whether or not blood sugar is under control over a three-month period).
Results show that Afrezza isn’t quite as effective as insulin with Type 1 sufferers but seems to work better with Type 2. Keep in mind those with a history of bronchitis or other lung problems, or who have COPD, should not take Afrezza.
It’s interesting to note this isn’t the first time an insulin inhalant has been available to the public. Exubera, a product similar to Afrezza, was taken off the market in 2007 due to lackluster sales. It seems that the public wasn’t crazy about the new delivery system. Will Afrezza suffer the same fate?
It’s All in the GLP-1
An entirely different class of drugs targets a hormone in your gut called GLP-1. Under natural conditions, this hormone tells your body to make more insulin. The effect lasts only a few minutes. Drugs targeting this process have been around for a while but used to require daily shots.
More recent concoctions like Tanzeum, Trulicity, and Bydureon have been developed to the point that a once-weekly shot is sufficient to get the same effect. Drawbacks include the possibility that you’ll spend the week with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The March of Technology
The great thing about medical research is that it never stops. A report by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers noted more than 100 new diabetes drugs under development. Expect to see offerings in the next few years related to DPP-4 inhibitors. Scientists say these drugs will block enzymes that break down insulin-releasing hormones. This type of inhibitor is projected to only need to be taken once a week.
Up to this point, the discussion of new diabetes treatments has focused on drug-related approaches, but the 800-pound gorilla in the room is something your doctor will likely tell you right off the bat. The eternal key to controlling diabetes, especially when it comes to Type-2, is to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly (though not extremely), and lose weight. In general, your food choices should focus on complex carbs, fiber, and lean protein. Gastric-bypass surgery might be an option for those who need to lose more than a few pounds.
The bottom line is that diabetes treatments are moving fast in today’s technological era of medical research. Those who suffer from the disease owe it to themselves to stay abreast of the latest studies and emerging new developments. One thing is certain: for the proactive diabetic who doesn’t shirk from taking control of the malady, the prognosis is positive for a long, healthy life.