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diabetes treatment


The Complexity of Health Care

If you never heard about Atul Gawande, M.D., you don’t know the best medical writer in the world. As a medical writer myself, I consider my naming him that to be about the highest praise I can offer.

When the people at the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists told me that Dr. Gawande would be the keynote speaker at this year’s meeting in Boston, I didn’t think twice about accepting their invitation. Listening to his address this morning, I was as impressed by his talk as I was earlier by reading his three books and his many articles in the New Yorker magazine.

But if Dr. Gawande were just a writer, this organization of practicing endocrinologists wouldn’t have made him their keynote speaker today. This incredibly talented young man, born in 1965, also happens to be associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and a general and endocrine surgeon at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston — two list just two of his many positions.

At least he didn’t have to travel far in order to speak to speak to about 1,000 of us today. I made sure to get to the auditorium early so I could sit in the front row to photograph him.

Dr. Atul Gawande Speaking This Morning to Endocrinologists

I also wanted to take a close look at Dr. Gawande to see if he looked frazzled from all his work. As you can see from my photo, somehow he looks quite relaxed.

Earlier in one of my articles here I named Dr. Gawande as as inspiration for my writing style. He even takes time to answer my emails when I write him. No wonder that the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation a few years ago named him a MacArthur Fellow, which well deserves its nickname, “the genius award.”

President Obama cited Dr. Gawande’s article last year in the New Yorker, “The Cost Conundrum,” which used as an example the town of McAllen, Texas, to argue that unnecessary medical tests and procedures were a primary factor in driving up the cost of health care in this country. That article affected the President’s thinking dramatically, according to Senator Ron Wyden, and soon after its publication, he showed the article to a group of senators including Wyden and said, “This is what we’ve got to fix.”

Today, Dr. Gawande spoke on “Beyond Reform: Facing the Complexity of Health Care.” The key word is complexity.

He mentioned diabetes a couple of times in his talk. But for now please think of diabetes as subsumed within our country’s much broader health care problems. Here are some of the passages of Dr. Gawande’s talk that immediately caught my attention as I recorded them.

“The deepest struggle of health care is its complexity,” he said. “This is the reason why health care often doesn’t work. Just half a century ago medicine wasn’t either expensive nor effective.

“We have identified now more than 13,600 diagnoses. And for each of them we have identified steps in their care that can reduce people’s suffering, if not actually cure their disease. But that arsenal has now accumulated to become more than 6,000 drugs currently that you and I can prescribe and more than 4,000 medical and surgical procedures that we can provide.

“It’s incredibly hard. There is no industry in the world that has to provide 13,600 different service lines to every community in the country, let alone the world, and customize it to every customer. It is man’s most ambitious endeavor.

“The value it’s producing, though, is already excellent. Life expectancy has increased five years since 1960 and nearly all of it has accumulated after the age of 65. It’s brought longer lives and later disability, and that has produced its own problems, because during that same time period we have reduced the average retirement age from 67 to 61. Somewhere this is not going to add up (he smiles).

“We are at the point where the volume and complexity of the discoveries we have had in the last century has now exceeded our ability as individuals to delivery optimal care reliably and safely. I think we were fooled by penicillin. It was miraculous for a couple of reasons: number one was the idea that you could treat this incredible range of infectious disease that could never be reliably treated before, and the second thing was that this took only an injection.

“It was that simply. And it led us to imagine that the future of medicine would look like that. There would be an injection for cancer. There would be an injection for heart disease. But it hasn’t turned out to be anything like that at all.

“We were fooled into imagining that discovery was the only hard part and that execution would be easy. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“What’s missing is innovations for great care. It’s innovations not as we are used to thinking, where we think of drugs and devices as the sole carrier of innovation; it’s about systems innovation in health care.

“Making food of higher quality at lower cost was the fundamental question of the 20th century. Now, we are coming to a basic understanding of how we will make better care at lower cost. This is the fundamental issue of the 21th century.”

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

Diabetes Medication

Is Gastric Bypass Surgery a Cure?

Gastric bypass surgery is getting more and more attention as a potential cure for type 2 diabetes. For example, Dan Hurley’s outstanding recent book Diabetes Rising, which I reviewed here, included it in the author’s section on cures for diabetes.

Usually people define a cure based on fasting blood glucose and A1C tests. Anna L. Marina, M.D., a primary author of the case study, and her associate, Dace Trence, M.D., described a case that met those criteria, “but did not support remission of diabetes on further evaluation.”

Dr. Marina is a senior clinical research fellow in the division of metabolism, endocrinology, and nutrition of the University of Washington. Dr. Trence is associate professor of medicine there.

Dr. Anna Marina

Dr. Marina presented her findings at a press briefing during the annual meeting and clinical congress of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists in Boston today. I am attending this meeting to represent Health Central.

The subject of Dr. Marina’s presentation was a 55-year-old man who was morbidly obese with a BMI of 45.2 and who had had type 2 diabetes for seven years. He had undergone Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, by far the most commonly performed bariatric procedure in the United States.

The surgery obviously helped him a lot. Right after his operation he was able to cut his insulin injections from 100 to 30 units a day. After four months he had lost more than 100 pounds and his A1C went from 9 to 6.1 percent. At that point he and his doctor decided that he didn’t need insulin any more.

But after seven months he started having post-meal blood glucose levels in the 180 mg/dl range. Then, as tested with a continuous blood glucose monitor, they could see that his post-meal levels were often in the 200 mg/dl range — all the way up to 294 mg/dl. Those levels are consistent with a diagnosis of diabetes.

This is also consistent with another recent study, Dr. Marina said. Dr. Mitchell Roslin and two associates reported at last year’s annual meeting of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. They performed glucose tolerance tests on 38 people more than six months after they had Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery.

“They found that six out of these 38 people still had diabetes,” Dr. Marina said. She concluded that “fasting blood glucose and normal A1C are insufficient to establish that gastric bypass surgery is a cure for type 2 diabetes.”

Gastric bypass surgery is a last resort. It can work for some people with diabetes who are morbidly obese. But unfortunately not for all.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

Diabetes Medication

Losing Weight with a Hydrogel

Today, after 15 years of work, a Boston-based company focused on obesity and diabetes came out of stealth mode. Gelesis Inc. unveiled something that promises to make losing weight a lot easier.

Nothing on the immediate horizon could be more important for most of us who have diabetes. More than 85 percent of us are overweight or obese, according to a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While I lost a lot of weight by using the first GLP-1 mimetic, Byetta, and then more by following a very low-carb diet, it wasn’t easy. That personal experience is in part what makes me so excited about the product that Gelesis presented to the public for the first time today.

The company made its presentation at a media briefing that I was privileged to attend. Health Central sent me to Boston this week to attend the 19th annual meeting and clinical congress of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. About 1,700 doctors from all over the world are here for the association’s largest meeting ever.

I arrived in Boston yesterday evening, and for me the meeting started with the media briefing this morning. It started with a bang as two doctors presented the results of their efforts to date. After the briefing, I cornered four other experts involved with the development of their product.

Dr. Hassan Heshmati, the chief medical officer for Gelesis, kicked off the presentation. He announced that they have developed the first superabsorbent hydrogel composed entirely of food components. They call it Attiva.

It swells up after people swallow it, making people feel full. This feeling of satiety lasts even after it goes through the stomach into the intestines. Then it safely degrades in the colon and releases the liquids that it absorbs, one of Attiva’s important safety features.

They designed Attiva to have the same physical properties as masticated food. The most common side effect was nausea. But only about 7 percent of the people in their clinical trial experienced it, Dr. Heshmati said.

After Dr. Heshmati’s introduction of Attiva, Eric Elenko, Ph.D., showed us what Attiva can do. Dr. Elenko is a partner in Puretech Ventures, which co-founded Gelesis.

Eric Elenko Shows How Absorbent Attiva Really Is

To measure Attiva’s effect on satiety, doctors at the Gemelli Hospital in Rome, Italy, gave it to 95 people. While some of them had a normal weight, others were overweight or obese, and they had an average body mass index of 31. Continue Reading


Don’t Let Hospitals Ruin Your Control

When I had elective surgery a year and one-half ago and then when I had an emergency operation about six months ago, I told the hospital that I wanted them to provide me with a diabetes diet. Big mistake. They have no idea what a proper diabetes diet is.

At that time I had read the book by Richard K. Bernstein, M.D., Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution. But I hadn’t focused on his guide to hospitalization. You can be sure that if I have a chance, the next time a hospital tries to run my diabetes life, I will guide it with a letter to them like the one here.

This week he told me that I was free to reproduce that guide here. What happened was this.

One of the regular readers of my articles here sent me a copy of a letter that she had written protesting the awful treatment that she had received in a hospital in Wyoming and in another hospital in Colorado. She wanted to get the letter to Dr. Bernstein, who she and I both look to for guidance on controlling our diabetes.

When I passed on her letter to him, Dr. Bernstein was sympathetic. But he added that he gets even worse horror stories from other people who run into our American health care system.

“They all relate to the ignorance and lack of compassion of physicians and hospital personnel,” he said. “I asked my literary agent if we should transcribe them for a book. I was told that people don’t want to read depressing stories, and no publisher would be interested. If you think this kind of thing would serve a purpose on your blog, just post a request for stories about interactions with medical personnel and you’ll be overwhelmed.” Continue Reading

Diabetes Diet

The Trouble with Naps

My most recent post here reviewed a new study indicating that resting after meals is hard on the pancreas, could lead to diabetes, and could make existing diabetes worse. This is an interesting hypothesis and one that you can check out yourself.

But one of my correspondents suggests that the results might be related to the fact that overweight people who overeat at a meal are more likely to lie down. “Edgy thin people probably jog instead,” she says.

That’s a good suggestion, and I’m not sure that the authors of the new study controlled for weight. But now comes a closely related study that indirectly offers support for the hypothesis that lying down after we eat isn’t a good idea.

People in China in the 50s and over who regularly take naps after a meal increase their risk of diabetes by 28 to 36 percent, according to a study just published in Sleep, the official publication of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, a joint venture of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society. The authors of the study are associated with universities and hospitals in China and the U.K.

Correlation, of course, doesn’t prove causality. It is suggestive and may be a good suggestion to follow, because the only downside is probably being a bit tired, which in fact could lead to a better night’s sleep. Anyway, a little jog after a meal will do a lot more to reduce blood glucose than lying down ever will.

The authors of the study that I review last week are in Kazakhstan and Ukraine, while the new study is China-based. Some of the most interesting research on diabetes now seems to be coming from countries that hadn’t been at the forefront of diabetes research. This Internet age seems to be leveling the playing field.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

Book Reviews

Diabetes Rising Book Review

Diabetes Rising is a strange name for the most readable book ever written about diabetes. But diabetes is a strange disease, as Dan Hurley shows in the book that Kaplan published yesterday.

The publisher sent me galley proofs of the new book several months ago. I’ve been waiting to review it until it became generally available.

Of the hundreds of books on diabetes that publishers and authors send me every year, I don’t usually review any of them. I’ll keep one or two of them in my bookshelf for reference, but I give away the vast majority of them, usually to my local library.

Diabetes Rising is the exception because its author has exceptional qualifications to write about it. Dan Hurley is a medical journalist who regularly contributes to the science section of The New York Times as well as to many other major publications. He earned his other relevant qualification 34 years ago at the age of 18. That’s when he got type 1 diabetes. Continue Reading