This is certainly turning out to be a bumper year for new diabetes drugs, which seem to be getting approved at an unprecedented rate. The latest one is called Trulicity, a once-a-week injection from Eli Lilly and Co, which has been fast-tracked onto both the American and European markets, despite serious concerns over its safety.
Trulicity sounds like a character from a Julie Andrews musical and your brain will unconsciously associate the name with truth, simplicity and felicity (happiness). But a spoonful of sugar won’t make this very nasty medicine go down. It comes with an FDA ‘black box’ warning about its risks of medullary thyroid cancer and other thyroid tumours, while very similar drugs have previously been linked with acute pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.
Trulicity’s generic name is dulaglutide and it belongs to a class of drugs called GLP-1 receptor agonists that already includes exenatide (Byetta), liraglutide (Victoza) and albiglutide (Tanzeum). Also known as ‘incretin mimics’ – synthetic versions of a natural body chemical that inhibits the release of glucose from your liver into your blood stream – they work in the same way as another closely-related group of drugs called DPP-4 inhibitors.
All of these drugs have a history of adverse side effects and serious health risks. As I wrote here, people taking Byetta or the DPP-4 inhibitor sitagliptin (Januvia) are twice as likely as those taking other kinds of diabetes medication to find themselves in hospital with acute pancreatitis, a condition that can lead to deadly pancreatic cancer. Tanzeum comes with warnings of thyroid C-cell tumours, acute pancreatitis and kidney damage, while Victoza also carries a warning of pancreatitis and has been associated with an increased risk of thyroid tumours.
Trulicity itself already has that black box warning in the USA for thyroid cancer. Because it was approved on the basis of just five small clinical trials (less than is usual for this kind of drug), the FDA has required the manufacturer to carry out a further five ‘post-marketing studies’, including an assessment of cardiovascular risks in people with type 2 diabetes. In the EU a so-called ‘pharmacovigilance plan’ will be implemented to educate doctors about the serious risks associated with Trulicity and to monitor reported side effects. So in fact the real safety testing is only just about to start.
Why, you may ask, is this potentially dangerous drug being rushed onto the market when there are still so many question marks over its safety? One reason could be the growing number of lawsuits being filed in the US against the makers of the very similar drugs Byetta, Victoza and Januvia, which are likely to start going to trial next year. Perhaps Eli Lilly and Co hopes to benefit from adverse judgements against its competitors, or perhaps it just wants to rake in its share of the profits before this whole class of medications is recognised as being highly unsafe.
Aside from the serious risks mentioned above, common adverse events reported during the clinical trials of Trulicity were nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and suppressed appetite. One has to admire the inventiveness of the Eli Lilly PR people in putting a positive spin on these unpleasant side effects – aiding weight loss is one of the highlighted benefits of the drug!
A natural and risk-free alternative
So, if your doctor offers you the convenience of a simple weekly injection of Trulicity, my advice is not to touch it with a bargepole. The same goes for any of the other similar drugs I have mentioned here. But there is one very safe and effective GLP-1 agonist available, even if your doctor won’t be able to prescribe it for you – it’s called berberine. A recent study showed that one of berberine’s modes of action against diabetes (and it appears to have several) is identical to that of drugs like Trulicity.1
As I explained here, berberine, which is a natural plant chemical found in a few specific herbs, could control your blood sugar as effectively as diabetes drugs. Instead of the unwanted or dangerous side effects associated with synthetic GLP-1 agonists, it also comes with the added benefits of reducing blood pressure, lowering LDL cholesterol levels and inhibiting both inflammation and fat storage.
Unfortunately, Trulicity won’t be the last ‘wonder’ drug for diabetes that we hear about. On the basis of animal study results, scientists believe that the current blood pressure medication verapamil may have the potential to reverse type 1 diabetes and are planning a clinical trial to assess its effects in human subjects. I’ll tell you more about this in my next blog post.
Wishing you the best of health,
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. Zhang Q, Xiao X1, Li M, Li W, Yu M, Zhang H, Ping F, Wang Z, Zheng J. Berberine moderates glucose metabolism through the GnRH-GLP-1 and MAPK pathways in the intestine. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2014; 14:188.
Category: Diabetes Drugs