Diabetes Medications Are Riskier Than You Think

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These days, it's not uncommon to walk into a doctor’s office with elevated blood sugar and walk out with an Rx for metformin (Glucophage) or another oral medication for type 2 diabetes. Writing a prescription makes doctors feel like they’re “doing” something for the patient, and they are—they’re making the problem worse!

Although these drugs may be effective in lowering blood sugar, most are no more than a Band-Aid therapy. Medications for type 2 diabetes do nothing to address the underlying condition, plus they have serious side effects, including weight gain, elevated triglycerides and cholesterol levels, and an increased risk of heart disease. These are all things you’re already at increased risk for if you’re diabetic. So why would you want to take a drug that puts you on the fast track for greater health complications?

Understanding the Types of Medications for Type 2 Diabetes

There are eight classes of oral drugs commonly prescribed by conventional doctors for treating type 2 diabetes. Below, you’ll find the common generic and brand names (in parentheses) of the most common medications for type 2 diabetes, how they are intended to treat the disease, and their most common side effects.

Drug Class
Medication Name
Mode of Action
Side Effects
Glipizide (Glucotrol and Glucotrol XL), glyburide (Micronase, Glynase, and DiaBeta), and glimepiride (Amaryl)
Stimulate the beta cells in the pancreas to release more insulin
Increased risk of cardiovascular events and death, hypoglycemia, weight gain, heartburn, nausea, diarrhea, and loss of appetite
Metformin (Glucophage)
Lower the amount of glucose produced by the liver and make muscle tissue more sensitive to insulin so glucose can be absorbed
Lactic acidosis, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal bloating, and loss of appetite
Rosiglitazone (Avandia) and pioglitazone (Actos)
Reduce production of glucose in the liver and help insulin work better in muscle and fat tissue
Increased risk of cardiovascular events and death, weight gain, upper respiratory infections, headache, muscle ache, sore throat, and sinus irritation
Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors
Acarbose (Precose) and miglitol (Glyset)
Block the breakdown of starches and slow the breakdown of some sugars in the intestines
Bloating, diarrhea, gas, stomach pain, and weight gain
Repaglinide (Prandin) and nateglinide (Starlix)
Stimulate the beta cells in the pancreas to release more insulin
Hypoglycemia, weight gain, headache, joint pain, nervousness, and sweating
DPP-4 Inhibitors
Sitagliptin phosphate (Januvia)
Block an enzyme that keeps insulin circulating in the blood
Upper respiratory infections, sore throat, and headache
Bile Acid Sequestrants
Colesevelam (Welchol)
Work in tandem with other diabetes medications to lower blood glucose
Constipation, nausea, diarrhea, gas, heartburn, headache (may interact with glyburide, levothyroxine, and contraceptives)
Combination Pills
Pioglitazone & metformin (Actoplus Met), Glyburide & metformin (Glucovance), Glipizide & metformin (Metaglip), Sitagliptin & metformin (Janumet), Saxagliptin & metformin (Kombiglyze), Repaglinide & metformin (Prandimet), and Pioglitazone & glimepiride (Duetact)
Combine the actions of each pill used in the combination formula
Side effects are the same as those of each pill used in the combination

Why Medications for Type 2 Diabetes Are Dangerous

If you haven’t heard about the Action to Control Cardiovascular Risk in Diabetes (ACCORD) study, let me tell you about it—because it sums up nicely just how dangerous many blood sugar–lowering medications are.

This large, government-funded trial was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of various medication regimens for reducing heart attacks, strokes and death from heart disease in patients with type 2 diabetes. One arm of the study was specifically set up to test the widely held assumption that more aggressive lowering of blood sugar would provide greater protection against heart disease.

However, that arm of ACCORD was abruptly shut down because it found just the opposite was true. Study participants who were on the most intensive drug regimens aimed at driving down blood sugar had a much higher cardiovascular death rate.

The news about ACCORD was not surprising, considering researchers have known about the fatal complications of medications for type 2 diabetes since 1969—when results of the University Group Diabetes Program were made public. Just like ACCORD, this study had to be stopped two years early because participants who were taking diabetes medications had a 250 to 300 percent higher death rate than those taking the placebo.

Here are some facts about specific diabetes medications:

  • Phenformin/metformin (Glucophage). One of the two drugs used in the 1969 study, DBI (phenformin), was shown to be so deadly that it was taken off the market. Yet this drug’s close cousin, metformin is the most popular diabetes medication used today.
  • Sulfonylureas. The other drug used in the 1969 study, the sulfonylurea called Orinase (tolbutamide), was ultimately tattooed with a black-box warning stating that it dramatically increases death from heart attack. The same black-box warning has appeared on all sulfonylureas since 1984.
  • Thiazolinediones (glitazones). The second-most widely used type of drugs by ACCORD participants was thiazolidinediones (also called glitazones), the most notorious of which is Avandia. Government experts estimate that Avandia may have caused as many as 100,000 heart attacks since coming onto the market in 1999.

Insulin for Type 2 Diabetes

Then there's insulin, another commonly prescribed conventional therapy for type 2 diabetes treatment.

If you have type 1 diabetes, taking insulin is an appropriate course of action because your body can’t produce it on its own. Therefore, you need injected insulin to survive. However, if you have type 2 diabetes, you’re better off not taking insulin.

One of the worst side effects of using insulin is weight gain. Insulin makes overweight patients gain more weight, and this excess weight drives blood sugar up even more. Seeing this, doctors usually respond by increasing the insulin dose, which in turn drives weight and blood sugar still higher. Before long, the patient is taking an obscene amount of insulin and doesn’t have a prayer of controlling his or her ballooning weight.

This effect was first documented in the 1970s when a large, long-term, government-funded study, demonstrated—contrary to expectations—that insulin use conferred no advantages as a type 2 diabetes treatment. Yes, it lowered blood sugar levels, but compared to study participants who implemented only lifestyle modifications, there were no significant differences in fatal and nonfatal complications of diabetes.

Insulin also raises blood pressure because it increases sodium retention and stimulates the sympathetic nervous system. It induces oxidative stress, leading to free-radical damage that impairs the function of the endothelial cells lining the arteries. It also has growth factor–like activity that thickens blood vessels and increases risk of atherosclerosis.

Because people with diabetes are already at dramatically increased risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease, the last thing they need is a treatment that amplifies this risk.

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Managing Diabetes Without Medication

The pharmaceutical industry shoulders much of the responsibility for why these drugs are still on the market. These companies currently control the bulk of medical research, treatment guidelines, and physician “education.”

In my opinion, you’d be better off with no diabetes treatment program at all than with these drugs. Taking medication that lowers your blood sugar may make you think you’re doing better, but these pills are clearly making you worse. That’s why I strongly recommend a more natural approach to diabetes treatment, which includes diet, exercise, and nutritional supplements that safely and naturally lower blood sugar.

Note: If you are currently taking an oral hypoglycemic drug, don’t stop taking it cold turkey. You must work with your doctor to gradually discontinue use.

Dr. Julian Whitaker

Meet Dr. Julian Whitaker

For more than 30 years, Dr. Julian Whitaker has helped people regain their health with a combination of therapeutic lifestyle changes, targeted nutritional support, and other cutting-edge natural therapies. He is widely known for treating diabetes, but also routinely treats heart disease and other degenerative diseases.

More About Dr. Julian Whitaker