Could Diabetes Drugs Help Your Heart?

If you have type 2 diabetes, would you be interested to know about medications that not only help stabilize blood sugar, but also appear to be protective against heart disease? Research is showing such medications may already be on the market.

A Danish study involved more than 100,000 individuals who took oral medications to treat their diabetes. The study researchers learned that a medication called metformin, as well as a group of oral diabetes drugs called insulin secretagogues (ISs), posed the lowest risk of cardiovascular disease.

"Some medications, such as metformin, gliclazide, and repaglinide, are more effective in reducing cardiovascular risk than the other medications," Dr. Tina Ken Schramm of Denmark's Copenhagen University Hospital said, according to HealthDay.

These types of drugs are the first line of treatment for people with type 2 diabetes, says Gerald Bernstein, MD, of the Friedman Diabetes Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. The oral medication works by stimulating the insulin-producing cells in the body, and it can be used in conjunction with insulin. Add to this the fact that it's protective against cardiovascular disease, and you might wonder why all type 2 diabetics aren't taking such medications.

One reason they may not be is because of the cost: they are more expensive than some other medications, Bernstein says.

"There are a lot of other medication choices that are very inexpensive so they tend to be used by different low level insurance plans," he says. "And when someone is limited by budget, they may not be on metformin or the class of drugs that work the same way."

Cost isn't the only reason these drugs aren't routinely used by all type 2 diabetics. They would not be offered to someone with liver or kidney issues, or to those patients who tend to have an upset stomach, says Spyros Mezitis, MD, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "Some people just can't tolerate metformin because of gastrointestinal upset," he says.

You and your doctor should have a conversation about different medication risks and benefits. Individuals who've had diabetes for more than five years are already at an increased risk for heart complications, which include coronary artery disease, Mezitis says. Someone like this could the perfect candidate for these types of drugs, he says.

Earlier research demonstrated that metformin has been known to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and death by some 40 percent when compared to a placebo.

With regards to this newest study, more research is needed, Mezitis says. "It's good news that metformin has been proven to reduce heart disease risk in a big study," he explains. "But we need more studies to solidify this information."

And, he cautioned, patients taking metformin should be screened regularly to make sure their kidney and liver functions are normal. Says Mezitis: "Patients definitely need to be followed by their doctor."


"Certain Diabetes drugs better for heart health, study finds." 7 April 2011. HealthDay, Medline Plus.