People with Type 2 diabetes being treated with metformin and insulin have a reduced risk of death and major heart problems compared to people being treated with insulin alone, according to a new study from Cardiff University in Wales. An estimated 29 million people (roughly 9% of the population) in the United States and 3.5 million people (roughly 10% of the population) in the United Kingdom have Type 2 diabetes.
In Type 2 diabetes, high blood sugar levels are caused by insulin resistance, in which the body does not use insulin efficiently, and inadequate insulin secretion by the pancreas. The oral medicine metformin is, along with a healthful diet and exercise, the first-line treatment, but, since the condition is typically progressive, most people with Type 2 eventually require insulin therapy.
To determine if using metformin along with insulin has any effects on the risk of death, major heart problems, or cancer in people with Type 2 diabetes, the investigators looked at data from 12,020 people who were being treated with insulin from January 2000 to January 2013. They tracked the subjects — 5,536 of whom were taking insulin and metformin and 6,484 of whom were taking insulin alone — for an average of three and a half years, from the time when they were first prescribed insulin.
The researchers found that people using metformin along with insulin had a 40% reduced risk of death and a 25% reduced risk of major heart problems compared to those using insulin alone. There was not a difference in the risk of cancer between those using metformin and insulin and those using insulin alone.
“In this research we examined insulin dose along with the impact of combining insulin with metformin. We found that there was a considerable reduction in deaths and heart problems when this cheap and common drug was used in conjunction with insulin,” said lead study author Craig Currie, PhD. “If at all possible, patients with Type 2 diabetes initiated on insulin should also be given metformin,” he added in a communication with Medscape Medical News.
Additional studies are needed to fully evaluate the possible benefits of using metformin along with insulin in people with Type 2 diabetes, Currie notes.
For more information, read the article “Drug combination could help reduce risk of death in Type 2 diabetes” or see the study in the journal PLOS ONE. And to learn more about metformin, read “Metformin: The Unauthorized Biography,” by diabetes treatment specialist Wil Dubois.
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Diane Fennell: Diane Fennell has been an editor at Diabetes Self-Management magazine since 2003. She is currently the Senior Digital Editor for Diabetes Self-Management E-News and DiabetesSelfManagement.com. (Diane Fennell is not a medical professional.)
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