NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A drug already used to treat type 2 diabetes might also help prevent it from developing in high-risk individuals, new research suggests.
An international study found that daily treatment with the diabetes drug acarbose (Precose) cut the odds that high-risk adults would develop diabetes by 25% over 3 years. By the end of the study, 32% of acarbose patients had developed type 2 diabetes, compared with 42% of patients given an inactive placebo.
The findings are published in the June 15th issue of The Lancet.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can no longer properly use insulin, a hormone that, after food is digested, moves glucose (sugar) from the blood and into body cells to be used as energy. Without normal insulin use, blood sugar levels soar. Although diet and exercise can help control the disease, many type 2 diabetics need oral medication or insulin injections to control their blood sugar.
Acarbose treats the condition by slowing the digestion and absorption of sugars from food, helping to control blood sugar after meals and improving the body's use of insulin.
The new study, led by Dr. Jean-Louis Chiasson of the University of Montreal, Canada, looked at whether daily doses of acarbose could prevent people with impaired glucose tolerance from developing type 2 diabetes. Impaired glucose tolerance is marked by elevated blood sugar levels and is considered a pre-diabetes condition. The study participants were all between the ages of 40 and 70, and were overweight or obese--a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
The researchers found that patients on acarbose were 25% less likely to progress to diabetes and were more likely to "revert" back to normal glucose tolerance than placebo patients were. They note that this risk reduction is similar to that found in a recent study of lifestyle changes.
Lifestyle changes alone--namely, eating better and getting exercise--can sometimes prevent type 2 diabetes. Whether they can be combined with acarbose treatment "remains to be determined," Chiasson and colleagues write.
The study was funded by Bayer AG, maker of acarbose.
SOURCE: The Lancet 2002;359:2072-2077.