Diabetes-Drug Failure Could Be Blessing in Disguise, Doctors Say

The Physicians Committee
NEWS RELEASE March 15, 2010
Diabetes-Drug Failure Could Be Blessing in Disguise, Doctors Say
New Study Could Focus Type 2 Diabetes Battle on Safe, Effective Dietary Approach
Neal Barnard, M.D.

WASHINGTON—A new study finding that intensive drug therapy fails to prevent heart problems in people with type 2 diabetes could be a blessing in disguise, say health care professionals with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM). The failure of aggressive drug approaches, revealed in the New England Journal of Medicine study, provides incentive to focus on diet and lifestyle changes to treat diabetes. Diet changes, PCRM points out, have no cost and only beneficial side effects.

A low-fat plant-based diet has been shown to be as effective as oral medications at reducing blood glucose and cholesterol in a National Institutes of Health-funded study conducted by researchers with PCRM, the George Washington University, and the University of Toronto. Researchers found that diet changes can be more effective than the conventional diabetes diet in helping people lose weight and improve their blood glucose control. The study also showed that a low-fat vegan diet has a nutrient profile and diet quality associated with a greater reduction in heart disease risk in people with diabetes.

“People with type 2 diabetes could benefit much more from diet changes than from standing in line at the pharmacy,” said Neal Barnard, M.D., PCRM president and principal investigator of the NIH study. “It’s important to discuss medication changes with your physician. But these findings should encourage anyone with diabetes to talk to their medical provider about adopting a vegan diet to manage their disease and reduce heart attack risk.”

The New England Journal of Medicine study was poised to push millions of people with diabetes to purchase prescription drugs to lower their cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. But researchers were disappointed to discover that three different aggressive drug treatment strategies did not prevent heart attacks—and could even be harmful. PCRM diabetes experts hope the results will drive health care professionals to focus on dietary changes for reducing patients’ risk for diabetes and heart disease.

In Dr. Barnard’s long-term clinical study, 99 people with type 2 diabetes were randomly assigned to follow either a low-fat, low-glycemic vegan diet or a diet based on American Diabetes Association recommendations. This study is the longest and best-controlled study of diet and diabetes to date.

Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit health organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research.

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