Type II Diabetes affects nearly 30 million Americans and is linked to other chronic ailments including obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, stroke and nerve damage. A number of prescription drugs are available to help diabetics manage their symptoms and help reduce their risk of complications from the disease.
Pharmaceutical companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars promoting their brand name diabetes medications and generate billions of dollars in sales. They all claim that their drug is better than those of their competitors’ but until recently there’s been little independent research to determine the validity of their claims and whether one is really better than the others.
A recent study conducted by the Department of Medicine at the University of Otago in New Zealand compared several of the most popular (and most expensive) brand names diabetes medications against older drugs that have been in use for years and are available generically. They pulled together results from over 300 different studies and clinical trials that tested different classes of diabetes medications to reach their conclusions.
Metformin, also marketed as Glumetza and Glucophage, has been around as a treatment to lower blood sugar since the 1950’s. It’s available generically, so it’s inexpensive. Metformin is also very effective and the side effects are considered minimal and tolerable. Most side effects are related to gastric and digestive distress including diarrhea, cramps and nausea. In very rare cases it can cause a complication called lactic acidosis which can be dangerous. Also, people with kidney disease need to be monitored carefully while taking Metformin.
Other older, commonly prescribed medications were included in the study as well – these included glipizide (marketed as Glucotrol) and glimepiride (marketed as Amaryl).
These medications were compared to the newer, more heavily marketed and more expensive medications including: Actos and Avandia, which belong to a class of drugs called thiazolidinediones; and Januvia and Onglyza, which belong to a class of drugs called DPP inhibitors.