Cholesterol medication may have big benefits for individuals with type 2 diabetes

An experimental medication designed to raise levels of HDL good cholesterol may also help individuals with type 2 diabetes improve their blood sugar control, according to a new study out of the University of Sydney.

Torcetrapib is a cholesterol ester transfer protein inhibitor. This type of medication is mainly used to boost HDL cholesterol levels and, along with statin medications, has been shown to improve total cholesterol scores. However, the findings show that it may be useful in treating individuals with type 2 diabetes.

In a study involving 6,661 individuals with type 2 diabetes, who took both torcetrapib and a statin experienced healthier fasting blood sugar levels, less insulin resistance and better long-term blood sugar control, as measured by HbA1c testing. The results were published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

The benefits were not as strong as those associated with more conventional blood sugar medications, but the researchers did note other benefits. Treatment with torcetrapib appeared to mitigate side effects commonly seen in individual with type 2 diabetes who are treated with statin medications, namely that statins often contribute to poor blood sugar control.

This is an important benefit, as heart disease is the leading cause of death among diabetics. While controlling cholesterol is important to minimize this risk, so is managing blood sugar. One medication that accomplishes both these goals could represent a major breakthrough.

"The possibility that cholesterol ester transfer protein inhibitor drugs may not only reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, but may also improve the control of blood sugar in people with diabetes, is an exciting prospect that may translate into real health benefits for people with diabetes," said lead author Philip Barter, PhD.

He did add that there is a lot of work that needs to be done before torcetrapib or any other cholesterol ester transfer protein inhibitor can be used to treat type 2 diabetes. The present study was not able to determine if this specific property resulted in the blood sugar benefit or if some other aspect was responsible. Still, the findings could result in powerful new medications.