I learned about the "promise of an artificial pancreas" in a recent Johns Hopkins health alert. I think that this "promise" maybe a great improvement for those with Type 1 (commonly known as Juvenile Diabetes) as well as for some with advanced Type 2 Diabetes. However, I am concerned about the device being marketed as a long term solution to diabetes.
I have seen many of my friends, neighbors and family fall down the slippery slope of using medication instead of changing dietary and exercise habits. From my experience it starts with cholesterol medicine, then comes high blood pressure medication, arthritis medication, anti-anxiety medication and finally the diabetes medication. The term "better living through chemistry" come to mind -- the only problem is that it isn't better living. I can categorically say that none of my acquaintances who have chosen this path are any healthier or happier. Sometimes it seems as if the only time I get to visit with them is between their doctor's appointments.
My concern isn't based only on anecdotal evidence. The FDA reported on Tuesday that it was requiring new safety warning labels on statins to warn of the rare risk of liver damage, memory loss and other cognitive problems and increases in blood sugar that can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Other drugs/medical devices that have been pulled are:
- Vioxx, a potent arthritis pain killer, Vioxx, promised to improve the lives of millions of aging baby boomers was pulled from the market when reports of increased risk of heart attack and stroke began to pour in.
- Rezulin, intended to treat diabetes, was linked to sudden liver failure and over 390 deaths. A leading FDA physician, Dr. John Gueriguian, cautioned that Rezulin could be dangerous and urged the FDA not to approve the drug. The FDA responded to his warnings by firing him and discarding his report.
- ASR replacement hip system from DePuy Orthopaedics recalled its because its components can come loose, fracturing the bone around the implant, depositing metal fragments in the bloodstream, and causing pseudotumors
- Reglan, widely prescribed as an acid reflux treatment, has been linked to a disorder called tardive dyskenisia, which can lead to uncontrolled movement and permanent disfigurement.
You only have to listen to the potential side effects of any of the medications/medical devices being advertised to wonder why anyone would ever use them.
I feel much of the same trepidation when it comes to artificial sweeteners. Some studies have linked diet soft drinks with Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure and abdominal obesity. A recent study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that diet soft drink consumption was associated with a number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. This study followed 2,600 adults, 40 years and older, over a 10-year span. Increase in the risk factors were seen in people who had daily diet drink consumption. The study did not look at specific diet drinks or the sweeteners that were used in the drinks.
I believe that we have to learn how to control our need for sweetness. To me, an artificial pancreas is just a band-aid on the metabolic syndrome problem. Our bodies are highly complex. I understand the desire for sweetness; it is complex also. With drinks as well s with foods, I choose to go with the least processed and least artificial choices. Most of the time, I drink water. If I want something sweet to drink, I will make lemonade from lemon juice, water and some erythritol. I choose my home-made coffee sweetened with erythritol over the sugary concoctions -- some with artificial sweeteners -- that I can buy at the local coffee shop or off of the supermarket shelves. I like to know what ingredients and how much are in my food and drinks.
As promising as that artificial pancreas sounds and easy as it sounds to not exercise, eat what I want and take a handful of drugs every morning, I'm just not buying it. Medicines and medical devices may be popular, but the reality of their effectiveness without serious side effects isn't guaranteed. I prefer to take the actions that I know will work - daily exercise and a sensible diet.