The Nation's Health + [Metabolic syndrome]

Metabolic syndrome: Rosiglitazone not so rosy?

Dr. Steve Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic published a study that suggests that the pre-diabetes and diabetes drug, rosiglitazone, may increase likelihood of heart attack by 43%.

I say "suggests" because the analysis was something called a "meta-analysis", a re-examination of data obtained by pooling unrelated studies and reanalyzing the data. Strengths of this sort of analysis: Sometimes trends that are not evident in smaller studies finally become evident in the larger numbers of participants obtained through pooling of data. Downside: Any statistician will tell you that a meta-analysis can only suggest an association, it cannot prove it.

Nonetheless, we are talking about people's lives. As they say, if you are taking this drug, also known by the brand name, Avandia, then talk to your doctor. I think that this is sound advice, as there are a number of factors to weigh in decision making. For instance, how far along the diabetic path are you? Have you had negative experiences with other agents?

It will, unfortunately, be months to years before confirmatory evidence on this question become available. In the meantime, Nissen will accuse the drug industry of pushing drugs through the FDA approval process without full safety data. GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturer of Avandia, will counter with claims of weak data, the existing trials not confirming Nissen's findings, etc. We've seen it before.

My take on this is to step back and look at the broad picture. Do we need yet another reason to say that it's far better to maintain normal body weight, dramatically reduce reliance on processed carbohydrates and wheat, exercise, and following other insulin-sensitizing strategies, rather than rely on insulin-sensitizing drugs? (That's what rosiglitazone is supposed to do.) Metabolic syndrome, also known as pre-diabetes, or diabetes is present to various degrees in two thirds of all adults I meet. Nearly all of it is self-inflicted . Nearly all of it is curable with the above lifestyle strategies if undertaken early enough in the process.

A 190 lb, 5 foot 2 inch woman, or a 220 lb, 5 foot 10 inch man, both of whom are surprised that they have pre-diabetes really need to get a grip on reality and health. To me, it's no surprise that drugs do not reverse all the nasty manifestations of lifestyle gone berserk. It should also come as no surprise that the complex, chaotic physiologic mess created by metabolic syndrome and pre-diabetes is not perfectly managed by adding one drug.