Starch blocker could prevent diabetes in some
By EMMA ROSS
Friday, June 14, 2002
London -- A pill that blocks the digestion of starch could prevent or delay the development of the most common form of diabetes in those with slightly high blood sugar, a new study shows.
Experts estimate that more than 200 million people worldwide -- including nearly 16 million Americans -- are pre-diabetic and half will develop diabetes within 10 years. They predict a worldwide explosion by 2025 and say the disease is likely to become history's biggest epidemic.
Although exercise and healthier eating can delay or prevent diabetes for most people, some experts believe that because many people won't heed advice about healthier lifestyles, drugs will be necessary.
A study published this week in The Lancet medical journal found that pre-diabetics who took starch-blocker pills cut by 25% their chances of progressing to diabetes, which is a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, amputations and heart disease. It is the fourth-leading cause of death in the industrialized world.
Type 1 diabetes, which is not affected by this medication, usually occurs in early childhood and represents 10% of diabetes cases. But 90% are Type 2 diabetes, which usually is acquired later in life. Diabetes impairs the body's production of insulin, a hormone that converts sugar, starches and other food into energy.
The drug tested in the study, acarbose, prevents the breakdown of sugar, so it is expelled from the body undigested and does not reach the bloodstream.
Acarbose, made by Bayer and sold as Precose in the United States and as Glucobay in Europe, has been approved for the treatment of diabetes for nearly 10 years. However, it is not widely used because of unwelcome side effects -- diarrhea and flatulence.
The study, funded by Bayer, involved 1,400 people from nine countries who had pre-diabetes, known scientifically as impaired glucose tolerance.
Some experts were encouraged by the findings, while others believe the drug is not a practical solution.
"It clearly does not make huge sense for people to swallow food and then take tablets to stop them digesting it," said Edwin Gale, a professor of diabetic medicine at the University of Bristol in England who was not connected with the study. "The best thing you can do is take exercise once or twice a week for 20 minutes. That will halve your risk."
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