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Diet Drug May Help Prevent Diabetes

By Dianne Partie Lange
WebMD Health News

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 benefits.

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 study.

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