Drug shown to prevent type 2 diabetes in those with risk factors

A medication currently used to treat high blood sugar may help most individuals who are obese and have other metabolic risk factors for type 2 diabetes completely avoid developing the condition. The findings could have implications for millions of Americans.

Dr. Ralph DeFronzo of the University of Texas reported in the New England Journal of Medicine that pioglitazone prevented the progression of pre-diabetes to full-blown diabetes in more than 70 percent of participants who were obese, had a family history of diabetes or had impaired glucose tolerance.

The findings could benefit a wide swath of society. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes, a condition that is marked by insulin resistance and frequently progresses into type 2 diabetes. The report also said that due to poor dietary and physical activity trends and an aging population, that number may skyrocket in coming years.

For the present study, researchers gave 602 participants with metabolic problems pioglitazone every morning for up to four years. During the course of the study, 72 percent of the participants remained diabetes-free. The researchers noted that the condition of a higher percentage of pre-diabetics would be expected to progress under normal circumstances.

"It's a blockbuster study," said DeFronzo. "The 72 percent reduction is the largest decrease in the conversion rate of pre-diabetes to diabetes that has ever been demonstrated by any intervention, be it diet, exercise or medication."

He added that the medication appeared to have other cardiovascular health benefits. After participants began taking pioglitzone, few developed blood vessel damage, which is a common complication of type 2 diabetes.
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