Pain Reliever Lowers Blood Sugar for Type 2: Study
But side effects of aspirin-like drug warrant further study
By Serena Gordon
MONDAY, July 1 (HealthDay News) -- An aspirin-like drug appears to lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes, according to new research.
A study of the drug -- the prescription pain reliever salsalate -- also found it reduced inflammation associated with type 2 diabetes. But it produced unwelcome side effects that could limit its potential as a diabetes treatment.
"This trial is a test of possibly the oldest drug in Western use, and, because it's so old, there are no clinical trials on it," said study senior author Dr. Steven Shoelson, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
"This trial was for a full year and showed that salsalate does lower blood glucose," said Shoelson, who is also the associate research director at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston.
The study, published in the July 2 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, included 286 people between 18 and 75 years old with type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body no longer produces enough of the hormone insulin to convert carbohydrates from food into fuel for the body.
At the start of the study, the participants' average A1C levels -- a measure of blood sugar levels over several months -- were between 7 and 9.5 percent. The American Diabetes Association generally recommends a level of below 7 percent for adults.
The study volunteers were randomly assigned to 48 weeks of salsalate at a dose of 3.5 grams per day, or to an inactive placebo pill. No other changes were made to current diabetes, blood pressure or cholesterol medications during the first six months of the trial, the researchers noted.
Over 48 weeks, people taking the medication saw their A1C levels drop by 0.37 percent compared to placebo.
Shoelson said that people who have metabolic syndrome -- a group of risk factors (including type 2 diabetes) for cardiovascular disease -- often have higher than normal white blood cell counts, suggesting inflammation. In this study, people on salsalate saw a drop in their white blood cell counts, but Shoelson noted that they were "always well within the normal range."
Improvements were seen in several areas among those taking the drug, including: fasting blood sugar; uric acid, which is a chemical associated with gout; and levels of triglyceride, a type of blood fat. Levels of adiponectin -- a substance related to decreased insulin resistance -- and hematocrit, a measure of red blood cells, also improved for people taking salsalate.
Not all of the changes linked to the drug were beneficial, however. The medication appeared to cause a slight weight gain -- less than 3 pounds compared to those taking the placebo. Many type 2 diabetes medications have weight gain as a side effect, Shoelson said.