Treating diabetes with a pill?
For years, diabetes treatment has been synonymous with insulin injections. Researchers are working to change that through insulin that can be taken orally.
Developing an oral insulin has been difficult, as it tends to break down in the stomach before it can be absorbed effectively. However, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, tested an oral insulin pill designed to withstand the stomach’s acid, dissolve in the small intestine and pass into the bloodstream through the walls of the large intestine. The pill successfully reduced blood sugar in rats for at least 12 hours.
While preliminary, these results are encouraging.
“This is a very interesting and exciting study, and it does seem like a significant step in developing an oral insulin medication to manage diabetes,” says Dr. Jenny Ukena, an endocrinologist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “However, there are many hurdles going forward, such as showing efficacy in humans as well as rats.”
Another hurdle will be whether oral insulin can perform all the same functions that injections currently do.
“There are two types of insulin, and they are processed by the body differently when injected,” Dr. Ukena explains. “Basal insulin is taken once a day and slowly releases over 24 hours. Bolus insulin is timed with meals and peaks after two hours. It is gone after four hours when the food is digested. Will oral insulin pills be able to not only lower sugar for a period of time, like basal insulin, but also account for the sugar increase after eating? It is too early to tell from this study.”
While this study offers hope for easier treatments in the future, painful needle pricks make diabetes an extremely challenging disease in the meantime. Dr. Ukena encourages diabetics to persevere in their treatment.
“Some advances have been made, such as continuous glucose monitors, which limit finger pricks for sugar testing and insulin pumps,” she says. “Talk to your doctor to see if you qualify. Also, make sure you are getting the smallest needle to inject your insulin, which can help reduce the pain with injections. Remember that the most important thing for your health and preventing complications from diabetes is ensuring your sugar remains controlled, which requires consistent use of your insulin.”
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.