New Diabetes Drugs Could Cause Pancreatitis

| March 28, 2013

In the past I have highlighted some of the numerous side effects associated with prescription diabetes drugs. This is especially relevant when it comes to new diabetes drugs. A case in point is a new class of diabetes drugs, called GLP-1 agonists, which has already been linked to the increased risks of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.

When it comes to prescribing drugs for diabetes, doctors are under constant pressure from the pharmaceutical companies to recommend their newest medications, since these are generally the ones that generate the biggest profits. I watched a French television programme a few weeks ago, which used hidden cameras to show how aggressively Big Pharma marketed a new diabetes drug, even though it knew that it was less effective than other meds currently on the market.

But lack of effectiveness isn’t the only problem with new drugs. It is a sad fact that the safety testing carried out before a new medical product is marketed is often inadequate and is sometimes deliberately manipulated to give a favourable result. As a consequence, the real safety testing only happens later – and it’s vulnerable and unsuspecting patients who are the laboratory rats!

This appears to have been the case with two of the latest drugs to hit the market for controlling blood sugar. A new study has found that people taking sitagliptin (Januvia) and exenatide (Byetta) are twice as likely as those on other forms of diabetes medication to find themselves in hospital with acute pancreatitis. This is particularly worrying because pancreatitis itself increases the risk of deadly pancreatic cancer, which kills more than 80 per cent of sufferers within a year of diagnosis.

US researchers at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, analysed medical insurance data on hospital admissions since 2005, when these drugs were first approved for use in the USA. They discovered that patients admitted with pancreatitis were twice as likely to be taking sitagliptin or exenatide, when compared with a control group of diabetic patients who didn’t have pancreatitis. What’s more, in most cases, hospital admission for pancreatitis happened within 60 days of the patients first taking these drugs.

Why Big Pharma is still in denial

Commenting on this study, a spokesperson for Merck, the makers of sitagliptin, rejected the idea that the drug could cause pancreatitis and reportedly added: “Nothing is more important to Merck than the safety of our medicines and vaccines and the patients who use them.” Well, that may be their PR line, but I think the research findings speak for themselves.

In fact, doctors have suspected for some years that sitagliptin and exenatide might be related to the incidence of pancreatitis and research published in 2011 linked their use not only with pancreatitis, but also with pancreatic and thyroid cancers. However, the latest study is the first to provide a reliable measure of the increased risk being run by people taking the drugs.

And it is just the latest in a string of studies that have revealed the dangers of other diabetes drugs. In June last year, a massive data analysis study showed that pioglitazone doubled the risk of bladder cancer. In the same month, research findings showed that three sulphonylurea drugs – glipizide, glyburide and glimepiride – increased overall mortality risk by more than 50 per cent. And in 2010, Avandia (rosiglitazone) was banned after it was found to increase the risk of heart attacks.

What makes Big Pharma continue to churn out one dangerous diabetes drug after another and then argue tooth and nail that they are safe, often in the face of incontrovertible evidence? One word: greed. Diabetes drugs represent a massive “cash cow” for the drugs companies, which they are determined to keep on milking, come what may.

If you have been prescribed sitagliptin or exenatide, speak to your doctor about safer alternatives. It can be dangerous to stop taking diabetes medication unless under medical supervision, but see earlier posts on The Real Diabetes Truth for advice on how to reduce your requirement for medication through diet and exercise. If you experience nausea, vomiting that won’t stop, abdominal pain or any other unusual symptoms while taking these drugs, see your doctor immediately, as these could be signs of acute pancreatitis.

One safe way to bring down both your blood sugar and your cholesterol levels, without risking the dangerous side effects of prescription drugs, is to take the natural plant chemical berberine. I was recently reminded of the value of this brilliant herbal all-rounder, which will be the subject of my next blog post.

Wishing you the best of health,

Martin Hum
PhD DHD Nutritionist
for Real Diabetes Truth

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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


1. Singh S, Chang HY, Richards TM, Weiner JP, Clark JM, Segal JB. Glucagon-like Peptide 1-based therapies and risk of hospitalization for acute pancreatitis in type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: a population-based matched case-control study. JAMA Intern Med. 2013 Feb 25 [Epub ahead of print]

2. Elashoff M, Matveyenko AV, Gier B, Elashoff R, Butler PC. Pancreatitis, pancreatic, and thyroid cancer with glucagon-like peptide-1–based therapies. Gastroenterology 2011; 141(1):150–156.

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Comments (2)

Testimonials are based on the personal experience of individuals. Results are not typical and the potential benefits of taking any drug or supplement may vary depending on your individual needs and health requirements. Please consult your GP before making any changes to your medical regimen.

  1. Martin Hum says:

    I am so pleased that you found this information helpful and that we are making a real difference to people’s lives. Hold onto that hope – diabetes can be defeated!

  2. MMM Hiffni says:

    These are vital information which has really enlightened me. I know my doctor/s could not give me all the new and advanced advice on the disease which I am subjected to recently. And this blog keeps me with hope of recovering from this disease fast. Thank you and keep it up for poor patients like me. May God bless you all for helping humanity with humanity!