June 28, 2014

Afrezza: The New Fast-Acting Inhaled Insulin Just Approved by the FDA

Yesterday after many years of delay, the FDA finally approved Afrezza, a new inhaled insulin.

I have been following news about this insulin for a while as quite a few of the claims made for it were very exciting, most notably that it is an ultra-fast insulin that reaches the bloodstream within 15 minutes. If this was true, that would make it capable of replacing first phase insulin, something that would revolutionize our ability to control blood sugars. 

It was also said that unlike Exubera, the inhalable insulin that was approved in 2006 and taken off the market a year later, the many years of testing the FDA insisted on for Afrezza has shown that it does not harm the lungs.

Also, from a cosmetic standpoint, unlike the case with Exubera's inhaler, the Afrezza inhaler is a small, whistle-like object easily carried in the pocket and discreetly used.

Even setting aside the improved activity curve of Afrezza, an inhalable insulin that worked just as well as the injected insulins would have the advantage of appealing to the huge number of people with Type 2 whose fear of needles causes them to put off using insulin until long after it would have made any difference in their health.  It would also be wonderful if children with diabetes did not have to inject themselves.

Though the needle phobia angle has been overemphasized as a benefit of Afrezza. Those of us who have injected insulin have found that it is not the big, scary deal non-insulin users assume it is. The needles, when prescribed in the right size and ultra thin gauge are painless. (If yours aren't you talk to your doctor about why you aren't using the ultra thin needles and the shortest needle compatible with your level of body fat.) So if we have gotten injected insulin working properly, the only reason we would want to switch to Afrezza would be if it was not only easy to administer, but as effective as the insulin we have been using.

So how good is this stuff?

On first glance, the label that contains the Prescribing Information (PI) for Afrezza is disappointing on several points. But careful reading of the PI, and some knowledge of the history of this drug may counterbalance some, though not all of the issues the PI raises. 

The Real Activity Curve 

According to the PI, while Afrezza does reach the bloodstream within 15 minutes, it does not become active until about 53 minutes after it is taken. This is very similar to the currently injected insulins, and at first, the graph shown in the PI made me question whether it truly is an ultra fast insulin.  

However, where it differs is the speed with which it stops acting. Where  Humalog (or Novolog) don't start working for about the same 53 minutes, once they start working, their concentration in the bloodstream rises for another hour and then only gradually drifts back down, taking 4.5 hours to reach the level that Afrezza reaches in 2.5 hours. This means that Afrezza is much less likely to produce hypos or the hunger that near hypos can cause.

You can see the curve for the activity of Afrezza compared to Humalog in chart A and the concentration in the blood of Chart B below.  Take a look at it. We will be discussing it further later on.

Limited Dose Sizes

The second thing I noted when I read the PI was that Afrezza is only available in limted dose sizes all of which are at strengths which are equivalent to multiples of 4 units of Humalog.  The avialable doses are 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, and 24 untis.

Seeing this, I thought. Damn! Four units of insulin is a LOT of insulin for someone who is insulin sensitive. This means the only Type 1s who can use this are those slurping down large non-diet Cokes  with each meal. And of course, with such limited dose choices, there is no way to match this stuff to your carb intake, which is the proper way to use fast-acting insulin.

However, after some thought, and after looking at the activity curve again I had a flash of insight. With that much, much shorter activity curve, and with the way that the insulin peaks very fast 1 hour after eating--which is when the bulk of the carbs from your food hit your bloodstream, it looks like you could use a much larger dose of Afrezza, get a much more powerful surge of insulin just as you got that high from the food, and then, because it drops so fast, clean up the bit of food left at two hours, and be done with your insulin without the hypo problems that the much bigger dose of insulin would cause if it were the much slower to peak and much slower to exit injected insulin.

So with that in mind, it struck me that the 4 unit equivalent might very well be suitable for someone insulin sensitive who usually uses 2 units to cover a meal.

I would love to get my hands on this stuff to give it a try, though because of the dose equivalence and my insulin sensitivity, I would have to test it against a big bowl of Pad Thai (2 OGTTs in one bowl!) . However, that  isn't likely to happen. But if you do end up being able to try a sample, I'd love it if you could send me a graph of your blood sugars after using it and a comparison to how you do with an injected insuiln at the same carb intake. With data like that perhaps we can start putting together some useful information about how this stuff really works when used by people who understand how to use insulin.

Wretched Results for Type 2s--But Not Because Afrezza Sucks

The table showing how Afrezza performed in people with Type 2 diabetes induced the same sadness, and disgust with doctors' stupidity as most drug data does, because as usual, the drug was tested in people who started with horrendously awful blood sugars and then took a drug in a way that left them with only slightly less horrendous blood sugars--ones that would still damage retinas, nerves, and kidneys.  You can see this data below:

These patients started out with mean fasting blood sugars of 175.9 mg/dl and ended up with mean fasting blood sugars of 164.7 mg/dl. Why? Because the idiots who treat these patients had them on oral drugs only, and gve them no basal insulin, which looking at those fasting blood sugars they needed very badly.

My guess is that these patients were not given much help  in learning how to use this insulin in a way that bore some relationship to the carbs they were eating. If they were just told to take the same dose at every meal, the chances were it was too small a dose to do much to control their blood sugars after meals. The lack of any graphs showing these patients' blood sugars after meals is telling.

So my conclusion from all this is that we have no data here that tells us how Afrezza would perform if it were used properly--with a basal insulin--and dosed to have some kind of relationship to the person's carb intake. But at the same time, my conclusion is that this is probably how the PCPs who treat so many people with Type 2 diabetes would dose Afrezza.  So it probably gives us a good idea of how well it will work in the real world--which is not as well as injected insulin, based on other charts provided in the PI.

But the problem here isn't with Afrezza, but with the fact that injected insulin, because it lasts for up to 5.5 hours, is also providing quite a bit of basal coverage for these people with the extremely high blood sugars.  If endocrinologists are able to prescribe basal insulins in appropriate doses along with Afrezza, and use Afrezza strictly to cover meals, it might show much better results.

But if busy doctors just prescribe generic doses of Afrezza too low to cover meals, along with two or three ineffective oral drugs and no basal insulin, Afrezza may end up looking like a failed drug, and the lesson patients may get is "insulin doesn't work."  I hope that doesn't happen.

Side Effects

The main side effect of Afrezza is cough, which is called "bronchiospasm" which is an intense cough. The data presented to the FDA before approval suggests that most patients cough a little bit when they start this stuff and then it calms down some. The more severe bronchiospasm generally occurs in people with underlying lung disease or asthma. 

There may also be a slight decrease in the amount of breath the person can draw into their lungs when they inhale their insulin. This was not enough to concern the pulmonary specialist on the panel that recommended the FDA approve the drug. The data suggest that any decrease in lung capacity is reversible if the person stops the drug.

But because of this side effect, people with asthma, smokers, and people who have recently stopped smoking should not use Afrezza.

The PI also says that doctors should test patients' breath capacity (spirometry) before prescribing Afrezza and then check it some months later, just to make sure they aren't having a significant problem.

The only other major side effect mentioned is that this stuff appears to interact badly with Actos and Avandia and raise the risk of heart failure. This isn't surprising, as ALL insulins when taken with these drugs raise the likelihood that people will develop heart failure.  If you read the pages on the main Blood Sugar 101 web site about these drugs, you will see that there are plenty of other reasons you shouldn't be taking them.

There is no contraindication for taking Afrezza with other oral drugs. I would suggest that you take it and any other insulin only with metformin. You can read of the problems with the other oral drugs on the main Blood Sugar 101 web site.  I think it would be very wise NOT to use Afrezza with Januvia since these drugs may turn off a part of the immune system that kills newly cancerous cells. Though testing suggests that Afrezza does not raise the risk of cancer, why take chances by turning off your body's first line defense against rogue cells?

Who can NOT take Afrezza

Afrezza has not been tested in children and is not currently approved for use in children. The FDA has requested that tests in children be run with an eye to approving it for them in the future, but obviously before they could be performed, the company that makes Afrezza will have to come up with smaller dose sizes. 

There has been no testing of Afrezza in pregnant women, only some confusing tests in rodents, which came up with mixed findings that are hard to interpret. Prescribing it to pregnant women is not recommended in the PI, but not flat out prohibited. Pregnancy is not the time to experiment with new drugs. Obstetricians know how to use injected insulin to keep women with gestational diabetes healthy.  If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, get over your needle phobia (it takes about three shots, max) and take the shots.

Afrezza is prohibited for people with lung disease, asthma, smokers, and those who have recently stopped smoking.

Now that It's Approved Can You Get a Prescription for Afrezza?

Probably not. Though the drug has been approved, it is produced by a small company, MannKind Corp., which is largely owned by Alfred Mann, the man who originally developed the Minimed pump and subsequently sold to Medtronic.

MannKind does not have the resources to market and distribute the drug. So while they do have a factory in Connecticut that is ramped up to produce several hundred thousand doses of Afrezza, they do not yet have a partnership agreement with a larger company that they would need to market and distribute this  insulin.  They have been telling the public that such a partnership will be announced "real soon now," but they have a history of saying this that goes back to the early 2000s.  Until such a partnership is in place, it is going to be very hard to get your hands on Afrezza.

And sadly, the fact is that Afrezza competes with one cash cows or another of all the big drug companies that do have sales forces that market to endocrinologists, may mean that MannKind will find it tough to find a partner who will not buy into Afrezza to bury it, to keep their other diabetes products selling strongly. They have been looking for a partnership for years, and the fact they don't have one now that the drug has been approved is worrisome.

But it may also be a sign of caution on the par of Alfred Mann, the company's founder. He is in his late 80s, still sharp as a tack, a billionaire several times over, and someone who has made it crystal clear that his interest in his latter years is in improving the health of people with serious diseases, rather than just piling up more wealth. My guess is that such a man is not going to sign an agreement with a company that will not actively promote the drug and make sure it finds a market. But exactly how this will play out is not yet known.

If a partner is announced, the next issue will be, will your insurer pay for Afrezza. Exubera was priced more expensively than injected insulin. MannKind's executives have said that Afrezza will be priced competitively with insulin pens. So if your insurer will pay for pens (which for years, mine would not) you might be able to get Afrezza to try out once the company finds a marketing and distribution partner.

Should You Try Afrezza?

The many years of testing of this drug suggests it is safer than Exubera, whose problems quickly became apparent. However, if you are already using injected insulin and it is working for you, there is no need to rush into using it. If you are having trouble matching insulin to your meals and avoiding highs and hypos, and if can get some samples, it might be interesting to see how well it works for you, and test out the theory that it acts in a more physiological manner. 

But there is no need to rush. Let other people be the guinea pigs until it is clear how Afrezza really works and what the real risks are in using it.

If you are a person with Type 2 diabetes whose doctor is telling you you really should try this stuff because your blood sugars are dangerously high, tell your doctor you would be happy to try it, but that you also want the long-acting basal insulin shots that will lower your fasting blood sugar and make Afrezza more effective. And if Afrezza doesn't give you normal blood sugars after meals, ask your doctor for injected insulin and read up on how to carefully adjust the doses until you can get the tight control that will prevent you from developing complications.

Is Afrezza Suitable for Newly Diagnosed Type 2s? 

The one place Afrezza might be a real game changer would be in the case of the newly diagnosed people with early Type 2 diabetes, who are usually just put on oral drugs.  That is because of the data that suggests that starting insulin very early in the treatment of diabetes can produce very good results years later, even after insulin has been discontinued. 

But if you are newly diagnosed, before you grab your insulin inhaler, try the strategy you will find described HERE. It may lower your blood sugar enough that you don't need Afrezza.  Even if you do end up trying insulin, using that insulin with a lower carbohydrate intake is likely to give you much better blood sugars, both fasting and post-meal, than using meal-time insulin with a very high carb intake.  Doing that is the classic case of keeping one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake.

Disclosure: I own a modest number of shares in the company that makes Afrezza, modest enough that if the stock quadruples it will not make any significant difference in my financial situation. I bought the stock because I was enthusiastic about the potential of this insulin, based on its activity curve and because I believe that too many people who need meal-time insulin delay using it due to an unnecessary fear of needles. If Afrezza got those people using insulin, it would be better than the current situation where people with Type 2 diabetes are put on oral drug after dangerous oral drug, none of which give them normal blood sugars, while exposing them to potentially life-ruining long-term side effects.

However, I realize that my investment in the company may affect my objectivity about the drug. So if Afrezza interests you, read up on it yourself, hang out on the online diabetes discussion forums to see what people who are using it have to say, and draw your own conclusions as to its safety and effectiveness. You can read all the research data about Afrezza in this PDF. It contains all the data that was submitted to the FDA's pre-approval committee of experts. 

June 11, 2014

Why Insulin Plus Metformin May be Associated with Higher Mortality

I have not been posting much as there is more than enough on my web site to help visitors understand how to control their diabetes and retain their health.  But today's news featured a diabetes-related headline so toxic, I had to break my silence.

The headline, which differs depending on which publication reported the study, states something like:

Insulin-Metformin Combo Tied to Poorer Survival

The finding of this study, which analyzed a pool of greatly oversimplified medical records, was that people with Type 2 diabetes who took metformin with a sulfonylurea drug had better survival rates than those who took metformin with insulin.

It is quite possible this is true. But to believe that this implies that taking insulin and metformin will cause you bodily harm would be a huge mistake--albeit one that I am almost certain most family doctors will make and one that will, over the long term, lead to them giving their patients even poorer diabetes care than they get now--if that is possible.

But the logic behind the conclusion that the metformin/insulin combo will kill you is similar to the logic that says that living on New York City's Fifth Avenue will make you rich since people living their are richer than people living in other city neighborhoods.

To understand this finding you need only consider who the patients are who get put on an insulin and metformin regimen. Number one, they are almost all patients treated by family doctors, since only a very small sliver of people with Type 2 have access to endocrinologists and those tend to be wealthier, more highly educated patients who have the kinds of jobs that give them premium health insurance. The rest of the older, retired, unemployed, or middle income people who have gotten diabetes during the period of the study would have been very lucky to have any health insurance at all, and the costs of seeing an endo would have been beyond their ability to pay.

So once you realize the majority of these patients were treated by family doctors, you have to add to that the knowledge that family doctors will go to great lengths to avoid prescribing insulin to patients because it requires a lot of time and hand-holding to get insulin working safely. This is time that the family doctors do not get reimbursed for, since insurers and medicare do not reimburse physicians for diabetes education.

Therefore, family doctors will put their Type 2 patients on every single oral drug available before they turn to insulin. The sulfonylurea drugs, glibenclamide, glyburide, etc., which provided better outcomes according to the study used to be the first drugs prescribed to people with diabetes, as they are very cheap, but with the advent of the newer, far more expensive incretin drugs, Januvia, Onglyza, Byetta, Victoza this is no longer true.

But here's the crux of the matter. Both the sulfonylureas and the newer drugs work by coaxing beta cells to secrete more insulin. So none of them will do a thing for a person with Type 2 diabetes who no longer has functioning beta cless. And the people with Type 2 beta cells are those whose beta cells have died after years of exposure to dangerously high blood sugars--the very high blood sugars that study after study shows are maintained by the majority of patients who are put on the newer drugs. (Over 140 mg/dl all the time and over 200 mg/dl for hours after each meal.)

So what happens is that after diagnosing someone with Type 2 diabetes  the family  doctor puts them on one drug for 6 months that leaves them with damagingly high blood sugars that kills off beta cells. When the patient comes back to the office with a still-terrible A1c the doctor prescribes a second oral drug which makes a slight decrease in the blood sugar, perhaps, but still leaves them with an A1c closer to 8 than 5.

This goes on for years, with the A1c creeping up to the 10% range and higher. The patient develops heart disease, retinal damage, kidney damage.  Only five or perhaps ten years after being put on the oral drug cocktail do they get to the stage where they are producing no insulin at all and the doctor is forced to put them on insulin.

But remember, family doctors aren't trained in dosing insulin and don't get paid for working with patients to dose insulin and most insurers don't pay for the kind of diabetes education given people with Type 1 diabetes for the hordes with Type 2. So  when family doctors put people "on insulin" they generally give them doses that are low enough that the patient, who has no understanding of how to use insulin, won't give themselves lots of dangerous hypos. These are eneric doses of basal insulin which may lower the fasting blood sugar from 250 mg/dl to 180 mg/dl, but do almost nothing to lower post-meal blood sugars which may easily be reaching into the 400 mg/dl level or higher after every meal.

So yes, the people put on metformin and insulin prescribed like that WILL die at higher rates, because they have been running dangerously high blood sugars for years and continue running them after having been given insulin.

In contrast, people with Type 2 who are put on sulfonylureas at diagnosis and respond with a dramatic drop in their blood sugars are the people who have inherited the specific diabetes genes that cause a flaw in insulin secretion that sulfonylurea drugs can correct.  There are several of these genes prevalent in the population diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

These people WILL get much better blood sugars taking with those drugs and having better blood sugar levels means they are far less likely to develop the fatal damage to their arteries and nerves that kill the people who did not respond to these drugs--the people who after long delays, put on insulin.

But get this straight: There is absolutely NOTHING about the insulin/metformin combo that is damaging in itself. Good research has shown that if people with Type 2 diabetes are put on insulin shortly after diagnosis, many years after they stop using insulin, even if they have stopped the insulin after a short period of use, they do better than other people with Type 2.

You can read more about what research has learned about using insulin for Type 2 diabetes HERE.

November 21, 2013

The Latest Scare Study: Or Why Eating Meat Does Not Cause Diabetes

I've received several worried emails over the past week written in response to a study which is being highlighted by the vegan/low fat/low-carb-diet-haters, who are using it to supposedly prove that eating a low carb diet rich in meat will acidify your blood and give you diabetes.

This article is summarized here:


Dr. Weil, who has earned millions promoting his own brand of faddish health advice summarizes it here: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/WBL02378/Surprise-Diabetes-Threat.html

I went and read the actual study, which you can find in its full form here:

Dietary acid load and risk of type 2 diabetes: the E3N-EPICcohort study

Here's my take on it:

I am always very suspicious of the findings of any large study that draws its conclusions from questionnaires purporting to measure what people are supposed to have eaten over a set period of time. And it turns out that this is exactly what was done here.

The measures of blood acidity used in this study, PRAL and NEAP, are not determined by measuring blood acid in the participants. Instead, they are computed using a formula which was  applied to the answers given in response to a standardized dietary questionnaires filled in by study participants.  You can read a critique of the methodology used to establish the forumulas used to convert these questionnaire responses to estimated blood acidity here: Critique on equations of net endogenous acid production (NEAP) and indirect proof of constant organic acid excretion

But even if this study is wrong that the formulas are flawed, since the level of blood acids are not actually measured, the reliability of the study result all comes down to the quality of the questionnaires used. And that is something I have personal experience with, as I was a subject years ago in a study of low carb dieters, a study that used one of these standardized nutritional survey questionnaires.

As the study proceeded I filled out this multiple-choice questionnaire several times. At one point, the nutritionist running the study mailed me my personal dietary analysis based on the answers I had given. Since this occurred during the year when, to lose weight successfully, I had taken to actively logging every bite I ate using LifeForm software, and carefully measuring portion sizes, too, I was able to compare my actual intake, as tracked in my log with what the questionnaire said I had eaten.

The questionnaire's results weren't even close. It ascribed to me a much higher calorie intake than what I was actually eating, and even more significantly, came up with  a completely different breakdown of carbs, protein, and fat--one that gave me a much higher carb intake than what I was actually eating. One that would have completely knocked me out of the ketogenic state that random tests with ketone strips confirmed I was maintaining.

The total failure of the questionnaire to reflect my dietary intake didn't surprise me, though, because the multiple choice questions that made up the questionnaire were written in such a way that it was impossible for me to give accurate answers.  For example, there was no option to answer "never" to many of the questions about my intake of high carb foods like potatoes. Instead I had a choice of reporting I had eaten potatoes "1 to 5" times in the previous month.

And though the questionnaire might ask about how often I had eaten red meat, or even about how often I had eaten "hamburger" it did not ask any questions that would make it possible to determine whether the "meat" I reported eating was the pink slime laced with MSG eaten at McDonalds or a home cooked burger made of high quality ground sirloin.

Even worse, there was no way that the questions posed by the questionnaire could determine if the "red meat" I had eaten had been accompanied by a big white bread bun and a big serving of fries. A person eating a stack of pancakes with syrup, eggs, and ham for breakfast who fills in this questionnaires is scored as eating "meat", in these questionnaires, though any future sorry metabolic outcome linked to eating this kind breakfast more likely to be due to its high carb intake, the high fructose in the syrup and the phosphates and other chemicals in the ham.

So these fatally flawed questionnaires will point the finger at "meat" when the real nutritional culprits may be something else entirely.

That's why I would not don't take this study too seriously. If you had a study where blood acid levels were actually measured in a large population over a long period of time and the measured high blood acids were found to be correlated with a nasty health outcome, it would be worth thinking about, but the costs of that kind of study are prohibitive, so it isn't likely to happen.  But as we have no way of even knowing if the participants in this study really had high levels of acid in their blood, and if the higher level of diabetes found in people who said they ate a lot of meat was caused by the meat or what they ate alongside of the meat, the rest of the study's conclusions are really a stretch.

That said, as I have written before, people eating low carb diets should be careful to eat quality, unprocessed meats and, as discussed in an earlier blog post, it is very wise to avoid eating meats laced with the inorganic phosphates that will damage your kidneys and heart. A low carb diet whose protein component is made up largely of fast food burger patties, processed foods, and supermarket bacon is not a healthy diet.

If you are going to eat a lot of meat (which many of us who eat low carb diets do not do) it is a good idea to eat organic meats if you are going to be eating a lot of meat fat,  because pesticides and other environmental toxins do tend to be deposited in animal fat.

Also,because the fatty acid composition of the fat of the animals we eat reflect the fats they eat, the fat from animals fattened on the currently fashionable "vegetarian" animal  feeds made up of corn and corn oil may contain higher levels of inflammation-producing omega-6 fatty acids than meat did in the past.  So it may no longer be a good idea to eat the fat found in supermarket meats. if you can find meat from pastured animals, that would be a better choice. I am coming to think it might be healthier to get the fat component in your diet from butters made from pastured cows and from non-processed imported cheeses rather than from consuming big chunks of animal fat.

November 14, 2013

Study: Lower Your Cholesterol and Raise Your Risk of Death Following Mainstream Diet Advice

You've been hearing for decades about how a healthy diet is one that lowers your intake of saturated fats and replaces them with "healthy" unsaturated oils. This, you have been told, will lower your cholesterol and your risk of having a heart attack.

What you probably didn't hear is that a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) February of this past year found that though the first claim is true--swapping out saturated fats for vegetable oils will lower your cholesterol--if the oil you use instead of saturated fat is full of omega-6 fatty acid, like safflower oil or corn oil, the second claim is completely false.

The study found that when men who had already had a heart attack replaced saturated fats with safflower oil and ate margarine made with safflower oil they significantly raised the risk that they would die of a heart attack, stroke or, in fact, any cause of death, over the next five years.

How significantly was that risk raised? The study states: "Among the control and intervention groups combined, an increase of 5% of food energy from unspecified PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acids] predicted about 30% higher risk of cardiovascular death and all cause mortality.

A reduction in SFA [saturated fat] and increase in the PUFA:SFA ratio were also associated with increased risks of all cause and cardiovascular mortality." In short, the more they replaced saturated fat with "healthy" polyunsaturated oil the more likely they were to die.

I was only made aware of this study last week, when the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) published an opinion piece questioning whether the government should be putting "heart healthy" labels on corn oil and other polyunsaturated fats. (Details HERE.) They cited the February BMJ study in their write-up.

What doesn't come across in the small amount of press the CMAJ article got is something that makes the BMJ study even more significant:  The data that this finding was based on was 40 years old. It was collected during the Sydney Diet Heart Study, a  randomized controlled trial conducted in 1966-73.

This was one of the many landmark interventional studies whose result was used to convince doctors that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats would lower cholesterol and, by implication, prevent heart disease.

But while the authors of the original study published the finding that the polyunsaturated fats would lower both cholesterol and triglycerides, they did not look to see whether lowering cholesterol with this intervention actually helped prevent heart-related deaths.

They eventually admitted in a study published in 1978--a full 5 years after they began to publish their results--that there was a higher "all cause mortality" in the group eating the safflower oil, but they did not look at whether these deaths were from cardiovascular-related causes. This was a surprising omission, given the point of the dietary intervention--to lower cholesterol in order to prevent heart attacks.

So it was only in the last few years that a new group of researchers were able to go back to the original study's raw data and take another look at it. When they did so, they discovered what they term "previously missing data."  This "missing data" was the data that led to the conclusion that there was a 30% greater risk of cardiovascular death among the people in the study who ate the cholesterol-lowering oil.

Where the Smoking Gun Was Hiding

Getting at this missing  data was not a trivial process. The original study data had been stored on 9-track tape--the kind you can see at left--which used to be used by IBM 360 series mainframe computers. There are only a very few data recovery specialists around who can still read these kinds of tapes.

Once they recovered the data, the researchers did a very careful analysis, teasing out other factors that might have affected the death rate and, most significantly, analyzing whether the transfat associated with the margarine the test subjects ate might have explained the higher death rate. They conclude it did not.

They also point out that this re-analysis of the data echoes what was found in two other re-analyses of 1960-70s era cholesterol/heart diet trials: Linoleic acid, with its high proportion of Omega-6 fatty acid and complete lack of Omega-3 fatty acid is really toxic stuff.

You can read the whole BMJ study here:

Use of dietary linoleic acid for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease and death: evaluation of recovered data from the Sydney Diet Heart Study and updated meta-analysis.

Omega-6 Fatty Acids Promote Inflammation

The researchers believe that the reason that the polyunsaturated oils used in these cholesterol-lowering diets were so toxic was because the vegetable oils used were very high in Linoleic Acid, an Omega-6 fatty acid, and devoid of the  countervailing Omega-3 fatty acids you need to consume to keep Omega-6 fatty acids from promoting inflammation.

So, okay. Safflower oil is now out of your diet. But it turns out that safflower oil is not the only common vegetable oil that is rich in linoleic oil.  Corn oil  is very high in it, too. You can see a complete list of oils sorted by their percentage of Linoleic acid HERE.

Finally, though health nuts who still fear that eating saturated fat will kill them will tell you that canola oil and flaxseed oil are healthier alternatives, neither of these oils has been a part of the human diet for any significant period of time the way animal and dairy fats have been.

Canola oil does contain Omega-3 fatty acids, but the process used to take away its rank smell and keep it from going rancid is likely to damage them. Damaged Omega-3 oils is not healthy. Flaxseed oil is the recently renamed stuff we used to call linseed oil and use for mixing up oil based paint--which it often tastes like.  It's safe to eat if you keep it refrigerated and don't let it go rancid, but since it is not a traditional food, I would suggest eating it in small quantities.

Palm oil is another fat that has recently made its way into our food system, as manufacturers are using it as a replacement for the hydrogenated oils full of transfat. But while there may be health benefits from consuming the palm oil eaten in traditional societies, the industrially processed palm oil that is appearing on supermarket shelves is very different stuff and may very well be harboring transfat-like molecules that escape the FDA labeling requirements. And besides that, it often tastes--and refuses to melt--suspiciously like lipgloss. Treat it with caution.

Stick to the traditional healthy vegetable oils and fats like olive, coconut , and melted butter, and you are more likely to actually improve your health.

October 1, 2013

Study Quantifies Whether Weight Loss Surgery Cures Diabetes

A study recently published in the Annals of Surgery gives much more insight into oft-repeated claims that weight loss surgery cures diabetes.

The study can be found here:

Can Diabetes Be Surgically Cured? Long-Term Metabolic Effects of Bariatric Surgery in Obese Patients with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.   Brethauer, Stacy A. et al. Annals of Sugery, 10/13/2013. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0b013e3182a5034b

The study followed  217 people with Type 2 Diabetes who had had weight loss surgery for a period lasting between 5 and 9 years. One hundred and sixty-two had the radical Roux-en-Y gastric bypass operation, which irreversibly reroutes the path of food through the stomach and small intestine. Thirty-two had the potentially reversible gastric banding procedure where a band limits the site of the stomach, and 23 had the irreversible amputation of part of the stomach sleeve known as sleeve gastrectomy.

Complete remission--i.e. a cure--was defined as the patient having an A1C less than 6% and a fasting blood glucose less than 100 mg/dL while taking no diabetic medications.

It is worth noting that many people with Type 2 are able to achieve these same numbers by cutting down their carbohydrate intake, without exposing themselves to any of the significant long-term risks that come with these major surgical interventions.

The Long Term Results

Only 24% of those who had these surgeries met the definition of "complete remission." This, of course, means that 76% still had abnormal blood sugars.

Thirty-four percent were described as having "improved." The study defined "improvemetn" as meaning that the subjects experienced a drop in A1c greater than 1%. Since the starting A1cs of the subjects in this study ranged up to 8.5%, a person could be considered "improved" if their A1c six years after surgery was still 7.25%--a level corresponding to an average blood sugar of 162 mg/dl (9 mmol/L). That is a level high enough to cause all the classic diabetic complications and it correlates with a greatly increased risk of heart attack.

But it gets worse. A full 16% of those who had these major surgeries--one out of 6--saw no improvement at all in their blood sugars.

And even more depressing for people who had these expensive, dangerous surgeries, of those whose blood sugars normalized right after surgery, 19% saw their blood sugars go back up into the diabetic range.

The authors of the study describe these results as being wonderful news showing that "Bariatric surgery can induce a significant and sustainable remission" in people with Type 2 Diabetes.

The statistics above suggest that the improvements caused by these surgeries are almost entirely due to the fact that they make it impossible--at least for a short time after surgery--for people who have rearranged their stomaches to eat any significant amount of the carbohydrate-rich foods that raise the blood sugar of people with diabetes.

As time goes by people who have had some of these procedures will have their stomachs stretch out again and will once again be able to eat the high carbohydrate foods that raise blood sugars, explaining the failure that often occurs in people who at first appeared succesesful.

This is because most people with Type 2, even those with very high A1cs will see dramatic drops in their blood sugars within a week or two if they cut back dramatically on their carbohydrate intake--whether they do this by limiting their stomach size or changing what they keep in the refrigerator.

Those who don't see a drop in their blood sugars after restricting carbohydrates usually turn out to have a problem secreting insulin. If they have this kind of surgery they are likely to end up in that unfortunate 16% who get no benefit from it at all. In fact, what they need is not surgery, it's often an appropriately prescribed insulin regimen.

But sadly, rarely do surgeons or the doctors who refer people for this surgery do the tests that could determine if people are insulin deficient and hence unlikely to benefit from this kind of surgery.

Finally, it is interesting that there is no hint here to confirm the latest, most fashionable explanation for why weight loss surgery works--that rearranging the gut boosts incretin hormones and lowers blood sugar independent of carbohydrate intake.

Why No Mention of the Complication Rate? 

A far worse omission, however, is that this study omits any mention of the surgical complications these people could have suffered as a result of undergoing these major invasive surgeries. Quite a few studies have found that the rate of post-operative complications associated with these surgeries is between 7 and 9%--almost one in ten.

Serious complications--such as incisions opening-occur in roughly 3.5%--one in 29--and one in a hundred patients require additional surgeries.  (Details HERE and HERE) Even more tragic, large epidemiological studies find that something like .18% of patients who have these surgeries die. That is almost two per thousand. Given that it is estimated that 205,000 people a year have weight loss surgery, this works out to about 400 deaths each year due entirly to elective bariatric surgery.

And these complication statistics include only the deaths and complications that occur shortly after surgery. They ignore the ongoing health problems that many people suffer after having supposedly "successful" surgeries.

These problems include permanent malnutrition due to the loss of the gut's ability to absorb vital minerals and mental changes which can lead to fatal anorexia or an increased incidence of suicide. I have heard from several people whose relatives died from the anorexia and malnutrition caused by having had this kind of surgery. It is a real problem which probably has something to do with changes the surgery makes in the gut hormones that regulate appetite and feeding behavior in the brain.

Consider the Alternatives

So before you sign up for this questionable diabetes cure, it's worth checking out the alternatives. Because the surgeons selling these expensive surgeries don't tell you that the majority of people with Type 2 diabetes can achieve the exact same kind long term results as are depicted in this study--or better--without resorting to surgery. They can do it simply by following the technique described here:

How to Lower Your Blood Sugar

It is carbohydrates that raise blood sugar, and cutting back on them will lower the blood sugar of most people with Type 2 Diabetes.

But despite this being true, many people who are told that they can lower their blood sugar permanently by cutting down on their carbohydrate intake dismiss this idea saying, "I could never stop eating the high carb foods I love."

If you fall into that category and would prefer a surgical approach, it's worth considering that any weight loss surgery that lowers your blood sugar will force you to give up those high carb foods forever.  When your stomach is shrunken to where you can only eat 1000 or so calories a day, it is physically impossible to eat a lot of carbohydrates .And in many cases--often those who are most "successful" with both weight loss and blood sugar control, the changes the surgery makes in your digestive tract ensure that high carbohydrate foods will cause projectile vomiting--an experience that will quickly train you to avoid the foods that could raise your blood sugar no matter how you used to feel about them.

Personally, I'd prefer to lower my blood sugar using a technique that doesn't expose me to the risk of death or permanent malnutrition and that allows me an occasional indulgence in ordinary foods. I also prefer an approach that doesn't permanently rearrange my organs and which leaves open the possibility that I might be able to benefit from some less radical future advance in the control of Type 2 diabetes.

There is a lot of money in selling these surgeries. And as everyone with diabetes knows, it is the money to be made that drives what treatments we are directed to. Surgeons market their surgeries to your family doctors just as much as the drug companies market their latest, most expensive, and most dangerous drugs.  I hear from quite a few people whose family doctors have told them to have these surgeries--without ever suggesting carb restricted diets or doing the tests needed to determine if the person needs insulin.

But armed with the facts like those that came out of this study, you will be better prepared to defend yourself against inappropriate and potentially harmful treatments.

One last note: It continues to amaze me that the same physicians who continue to issue dire warnings about how dangerous low carb diets are to your health are the same people who recommend these far more dangerous surgeries.

When researching my book Diet 101: The Truth about Low Carb Diets I was able to find a grand total of 2 verified reports of deaths that could be linked in any way with low carb dieting--and they were linked with starvation diets that were dangerous not because of their low carbohydrate intake but because of their lack of calories and electrolytes. Compare this with those 400 deaths a year attributable to these surgeries!