The problem with the medication-based approach is that you’ll most likely have to be on these medications for the rest of your life. They are expensive and many come with a host of side effects. The medication approach focuses on management of diabetes, not reversal. Taking medications for type 2 diabetes combats the end result, which is rising blood sugar, but does not address the root causes—insulin resistance and carbohydrate intolerance.
After you are diagnosed with diabetes, by following a healthy lifestyle, which includes a healthy diet along with exercise, you may be able to decrease your blood glucose levels to within normal range. Utilizing SMBG (self monitoring of blood glucose), you can see how different foods, as well as meals, influence your blood glucose levels. Doing SMBG along with a healthy diet and exercise is key to getting your diabetes under good control.
One of the most advanced alternatives comes from the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) in the US, which is developing a bioengineered mini-organ where insulin-producing cells are encapsulated within a protective barrier. Two years ago, the DRI announced that the first patient treated in an ongoing Phase I/II trial no longer requires insulin therapy.
A further danger of insulin treatment is that while diabetic microangiopathy is usually explained as the result of hyperglycemia, studies in rats indicate that the higher than normal level of insulin diabetics inject to control their hyperglycemia may itself promote small blood vessel disease. While there is no clear evidence that controlling hyperglycemia reduces diabetic macrovascular and cardiovascular disease, there are indications that intensive efforts to normalize blood glucose levels may worsen cardiovascular and cause diabetic mortality.
The diagnosis of diabetes, and the effectiveness of treatments can be objectively measured. Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) measurements and then the oral glucose tolerance test accurately measure insulin function, and guide diagnosis. While routine blood sugar monitoring (with test strips) is generally unnecessary in Type 2 diabetes, measurement gives a point estimate of blood sugar levels. Glyclated hemoglobin (A1C) levels reflect overall blood sugar trends, with higher levels associated with more complications of the disease. Interestingly, super-intensive blood glucose lowering isn’t associated with additional risk reduction, and it increases the risk of side effects due to too-low blood sugar. Treatment goals are individualized (hey, it’s “holistic”), balancing a number of factors including risks as well as a patient’s ability to manage complex treatment plans.
Note that these medications used to treat type 2 diabetes are typically not used in pregnant or breastfeeding women. At present the only recommended way of controlling diabetes in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding is by diet, exercise, and insulin therapy. You should speak with your health-care professional if you are taking these medications, are considering becoming pregnant, or if you have become pregnant while taking these medications.