We’re in the middle of a pandemic, but then you already knew that. We’re also in the middle of an epidemic. It has been going on for decades and the long-term health consequences could be even more grave that those from the coronavirus.

According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes affects 34 million children and adults. Over 7 million people have this metabolic disorder but may not know it. Tens of millions more have prediabetes.

Experts call Type 2 diabetes a global health crisis. That’s because it is increasing at an alarming rate and contributes to heart disease and other chronic health conditions.

Public health authorities often blame eating behavior, a sedentary lifestyle and obesity as the prime culprits behind this disease. There’s no doubt that lifestyle factors are a major contributor to this epidemic. What is rarely mentioned, however, is the number of medicines that can also contribute to the development of Type 2 diabetes.

Some of the most widely prescribed pills in the world raise blood sugar levels and are associated with a diagnosis of diabetes. The latest to join this club are popular acid-suppressing drugs called proton pump inhibitors or PPIs.

It is estimated that more than 100 million prescriptions are filled each year around the world. In the U.S. alone, over 20 million people take medications like esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid) or omeprazole (Prilosec).

In a study in the journal Gut (Sept. 28, 2020) researchers “found that regular PPI use was associated with a 24% higher risk of type 2 diabetes. The risk of diabetes was likely to increase with the duration of PPI use and to decrease with the time stopping PPIs.”

The authors conclude: “Regular use of PPIs was associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and the risk increased with longer duration of use. Physicians should therefore exercise caution when prescribing PPIs, particularly for long-term use.”

Other drugs that may be contributing to the Type 2 diabetes epidemic include corticosteroids like prednisone. At last count, over 10 million people are taking this drug to relieve inflammation. But it and other steroids can raise blood sugar levels and trigger diabetes. Inhaled corticosteroids used to treat lung problems like COPD may also increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes (Diabetes, Obesity & Metabolism, August 2020).

Statins such as atorvastatin, lovastatin, pravastatin, rosuvastatin and simvastatin are taken by more than 40 million Americans annually. Such drugs can also elevate glucose levels. A six-year Finnish study concluded that “Statin treatment increased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 46%, attributable to decreases in insulin sensitivity and insulin secretion” (Diabetologia, May, 2015).

Even the commonly prescribed diuretics like HCTZ (hydrochlorothiazide) can make blood sugar levels harder to control (Hypertension, June 26, 2006). At last count, over 20 million Americans swallow this drug, often to control high blood pressure.

No one should EVER stop any medication without checking with the prescriber. Sometimes lowering the dose of a statin or a diuretic can diminish the impact on blood sugar levels. In other instances, the risk of diabetes may be quite small and be outweighed by the benefits of the medicine. The moral of this tale, though, is that health care professionals must be aware that some of the medicines they prescribe could be contributing to the epidemic of diabetes sweeping the globe.

Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist. Teresa Graedon holds a doctorate in medical anthropology and is a nutrition expert. Their syndicated radio show can be heard on public radio. In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website:


© 2020 King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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