It’s no surprise that Paula Deen, a celebrity chef who specializes in deep-fried fattening foods, has type 2 diabetes. But instead of promoting a healthier lifestyle and healthier meals to fight her illness, she’s now marketing a diabetes drug. Her much-publicized approach to coping with diabetes reflects the kind of wrongheaded approach that has made diabetes into an epidemic that kills thousands of people every year.
When Deen announced she had type 2 diabetes, you might have expected her to also announce that she was going to change her lifestyle in order to protect her health. Instead, Deen seems to be taking the stance that having this potentially devastating disease is a money-making opportunity. To offset the damage of diabetes, most people need to lose weight, engage in an exercise program and eat a healthier diet. You can’t rely on pharmaceuticals to save you from your unhealthy habits. They won’t.
That fact hasn’t stopped Deen and her two sons from becoming spokespeople for the diabetes drug Victoza, marketed by Novo Nordisk. Actions like this have caused another celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain, to call Deen “the worst, most dangerous person in America.” In an interview with the website eater.com, Bourdain said, “When your signature dish is hamburger in between a doughnut, and you’ve been cheerfully selling this stuff knowing all along that you’ve got Type 2 Diabetes… It’s in bad taste if nothing else.”
Aside from the fact that no medication can successfully combat diabetes if you don’t change your lifestyle, many experts question whether the drug that Deen endorses can produce any real benefits for diabetics. As health writer Tom Philpott notes, “Deen’s favored Big Pharma diabetes product might be as questionable as the (processed) meat she promotes.”
Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Victoza in 2010 for diabetics, studies have suggested that the drug may be linked to thyroid cancer. As a matter of fact, in 2009, the members of the Endocrinologic and Metabolic Advisory Committee to the FDA agreed almost unanimously that lab studies showing a connection between Victoza and thyroid problems in animals probably meant that human takers of the drug would have similar complications.
As Philpott says, the FDA has issued warnings about Victoza’s connection with not only thyroid cancer but also pancreatitis. And MedPage Today reports that the FDA instructed Nova Nordisk to send out letters to doctors emphasizing the drug’s “serious” risks.
Along with Victoza’s potential side effects, a substantial number of experts question whether pharmaceuticals like this one, designed to lower blood sugar, provide any significant benefits to people with diabetes. According to Nortin Hadler, M.D., of the University of North Carolina, a frequent critic of conventional medical practices, reducing blood sugar with these types of drugs is practically worthless. He says in his book, Rethinking Aging, that they ought to “be taken off the market.” In an interview with Philpott, Hadler said drugs like Victoza “have never been shown in years of study to provide any benefit.”
Today, in the United States, diabetes has become a devastating epidemic. It is estimated that 26 million of us already have diabetes, and another 79 million are pre-diabetic and at serious risk of developing the disease. Diabetes kills about 69,000 Americans a year (that’s almost 200 people a day), and the total cost of the illness is about $112 billion — more than $12 million an hour.
Research shows that simply losing weight, exercising and eating more fruits and vegetables can lower your risk of diabetes. For example, a study of African-Americans reported in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, found that those who followed a vegan diet reduced their risk of diabetes by 70 percent.
Meanwhile, Deen says that she is not going to be making any significant changes to the recipes that she uses on her television shows. And if America follows her lead, the diabetes disaster will continue unabated.