Diet Drug May Help Prevent Diabetes
WebMD News Archive
May 10, 2000 -- Not only can the diet drug Xenical help overweight people
drop weight and keep it off, the weight loss can leave them less likely to
develop diabetes -- even if they shed only a few pounds, an international team
of researchers has found.
Researcher Steven B. Heymsfield, MD, tells WebMD that the study, published
in Archives of Internal Medicine, will help sweep away the misconception
that overweight people need to lose a great deal of weight to gain health
Participants in the research started out at an average of 220 pounds,
Heymsfield, of the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University in
New York, tells WebMD. "At best, they lost about 10% of their body weight,
which puts them at about [200 pounds]. By any measure that is [still]
overweight," he says. Yet the study showed that their ability to handle
glucose was significantly improved.
Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, which results from the
body's inability to respond to insulin and leads to a higher than normal level
of sugar, or glucose, in the bloodstream.
To test their theory that losing a small amount of weight would improve
glucose regulation, Heymsfield and colleagues from the U.S., Finland, England,
and Sweden looked at the results of three clinical trials of Xenical involving
675 obese men and women. The drug, which is approved by the FDA for treating
obesity, works by blocking the enzyme that breaks down fat, meaning less
dietary fat is absorbed by the body.
The men and women who took Xenical three times a day and followed a
moderately low-calorie diet lost an average of almost 15 pounds. Others, who
took a placebo and followed the same diet, lost an average of about eight
pounds. At the end of the second year, the Xenical group had maintained a
weight loss that was about six pounds greater than the placebo group.
At the beginning of the study, the men and women had a blood test to detect
how well their bodies used glucose. The test was repeated at the end of the
The researchers found that the dieters who had impaired glucose tolerance
before taking Xenical progressed to type 2 diabetes more slowly than those who
took the placebo. They also found that modest weight loss brought about
improved blood glucose levels in those who didn't yet have diabetes, but who
had impaired glucose tolerance when the study began.
"They have proven ... what we have suspected -- that weight loss can
prevent or treat diabetes," says Ian Yip, MD, who reviewed the study for
WebMD. "Ninety percent of type 2 diabetics have what obesity experts call
'diabesity.'" Yip is associate chief of the division of clinical nutrition
at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Medicine.