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Diabetes Drug Shows Promise in Women

Women who endured gestational diabetes at lower risk for Type II diabetes later on

SUNDAY, Aug. 5, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Medications that lower insulin resistance in women at risk for Type II diabetes can play a big role in stalling or preventing the onset of the disease, a new report says.

A study of 235 Hispanic women with recent gestational diabetes showed they had a much lower risk of developing the disease later if placed on drugs that help the body's cells use insulin to absorb glucose more effectively.

The research was presented at a recent meeting of the American Diabetes Association.

The researchers, from the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, call the study results significant. Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and usually disappears after childbirth. But up to 40 percent of women who have a history of gestational diabetes develop Type II diabetes in the future, according to the National Institutes of Health.

During the 30-month study, however, only 5 percent of women taking the drug troglitazone went on to develop Type II diabetes within a year, compared to 12 percent of women taking a placebo.

Perhaps more significantly, the drug appeared to stall the onset of diabetes and also prevent its occurrence after the women stopped taking the medication. Although the researchers projected that 10 to 12 of the 55 women who completed the study's eight-month follow-up period would probably develop diabetes after going off the drug, only one out of 40 who showed up for a follow-up had developed the disease.

"Eight months after the drug was stopped, the women's glucose tolerance tests were exactly what they had been when they started the trial," says Dr. Thomas A. Buchanan, a professor at the University of Southern California and author of the study.

The study started in 1998. Troglitazone, sold commercially as Rezulin, was taken off the market last year by the Food and Drug Administration because of concerns about potential severe liver problems. In ongoing studies, however, the researchers have switched the women to a similar drug shown to be safe. It's called pioglitazone (Actos), and they expect to see the same benefits.

In Type II diabetes, either the body does not produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin, according to the American Diabetes Association. Insulin is "necessary for the body to be able to use sugar. Sugar is the basic fuel for the cells in the body, and insulin takes the sugar from the blood into the cells. When glucose builds up in the blood instead of going into cells, it can cause two problems: right away, your cells may be starved for energy. Over time, high blood sugar levels may hurt your eyes, kidneys, nerves or heart," the ADA says.

Dr. Francine Kaufman, head of the division of endocrinology at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles, says people with Type II diabetes can fight the disease without drugs. But getting many of them to comply with the necessary lifestyle changes is the big obstacle.

"The best suggestions for people at risk for Type II diabetes are things like losing weight, quitting smoking, exercising and eating right. The improvement from that alone could be enough that you would never need to take drugs," she says.

"The problem, however, is motivating people to get to actually do that," she adds.

What To Do

Visit the American Diabetes Association for information on healthy living for diabetics.

And read more about controlling your blood sugar at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

SOURCES: Interviews with Thomas A. Buchanan, M.D., professor of medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, physiology and biophysics, University of Southern California; Francine Kaufman, M.D., head of the division of endocrinology, Children's Hospital, Los Angeles
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