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Hormonal Diabetes Treatment Shows Promise

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD

March 7, 2002 -- Giving type 2 diabetics an extra dose of a naturally occurring hormone may help them fight the disease by correcting an imbalance that may be at the root of the problem, according to the results of a new, preliminary study.

People with type 2 diabetes are unable to produce or process enough insulin, which is needed to absorb glucose in the cells and meet the body's energy needs. Treatment of the disease usually includes modifying the diet, exercise, medication to lower blood glucose, and insulin supplementation. Left untreated, complications from the disease can include kidney damage, loss of limbs, and blindness.

But a pilot study, published in this week's issue of TheLancet, shows the intestinal hormone known as glucagon-like peptide or GLP-1 may eventually become a new treatment alternative. The hormone is associated with insulin production and is found in lesser concentrations in people with type 2 diabetes.

Danish researchers treated 20 patients with the disease with either intravenous injections of the hormone or saline placebo for 6 weeks. They found patients who received GLP-1 improved in several major areas used to measure diabetic function -- without any reported side effects.

Improvements included:

  • Fasting and eight-hour average blood glucose levels decreased
  • Participants lost an average of about 4 lbs in body weight
  • Appetite was reduced
  • Insulin sensitivity and cell function improved

"The study shows that a GLP-1 based treatment is likely to be effective in the long term," says study author Jens Juul Holst, professor at the Panum Institute at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, in a news release. "Therefore, it is our hope that this new treatment, in addition to effectively correcting the metabolic disturbance of the disease, may actually help restore the underlying defective cell function."

Type 2 diabetes affects about 10% of adults over age 60 and has also begun to emerge in some teenage children.

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