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An insulin pill may be closer than we think
Living with diabetes can get complicated.
Whether it’s Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, the disease impacts everything you do, from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed.
That’s because a diabetic must monitor their blood sugar carefully and constantly. They need to control what they eat, how much and when they eat it.
Even controlling stress and getting exercise are no longer just healthy habits — but necessities of life.
But, most of all, the number one priority of anyone living with diabetes is making sure their body is receiving the right amount of insulin at the right time.
That usually means injections or insulin pumps. For most diabetics, a lifetime sentence of needle sticks. Who wants that? No one!
That’s why researchers are excited about a new and painless way for diabetics to get the insulin they desperately need…
The need for insulin
When it comes to diabetes, people will sometimes ask, “Which is worse, type 1 or type 2?”
The answer probably depends on who you ask, but the analogy of a key and a lock has been used to describe the difference…
With type 1 diabetes, your body does not make any keys (insulin) to open the locks and let glucose into your cells.
In type 2, the keyhole is rusty, or the key is bent. You have the insulin “keys”, but they have trouble opening the cells to let the glucose in.
Both types of diabetics can require insulin injections. Those with type 1 diabetes, usually diagnosed as children, teens or sometimes in their 20s or 30s, will require them from the start since their pancreas is simply not making any insulin.
With type 2 diabetes, it can take longer before insulin injections are needed. And there are two schools of thought on that…
“After 10 to 20 years, almost all patients with type 2 diabetes will need insulin,” says Dr. Alaleh Mazhari, associate professor of endocrinology at Loyola Medicine in Maywood, Illinois.
“Once they lose most of the cells in the pancreas that make insulin, no other diabetes medication can help.”
Of course, natural practitioners and integrative physicians, with studies to back up what they say, will tell you that type 2 diabetes can be reversed, or at the very least controlled, solely through diet and exercise.
But if we’re sticking (no pun intended) with conventional medicine, we have to talk about insulin delivery methods…
Particularly, one that may be as easy as popping an insulin pill.
Insulin pill: The “Swiss army knife” of insulin delivery
Taking an insulin pill form would be a simple and convenient alternative to either injections or pumps. But there has been one obstacle to this…
Insulin deteriorates quickly when it comes into contact with the gastric acid and digestive enzymes in the stomach.
Recently, though, a team of specialists from Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences has come up with an insulin pill they believe can navigate the digestive system and deliver insulin intact.
Samir Mitragotri, one of the Harvard researchers, compares the insulin pill to a Swiss army knife. It has multiple layers that address different obstacles, much like the knife has different tools for different jobs.
The insulin pill is enclosed in a coating that resists gastric acid. Within the coating, the insulin itself is suspended in a liquid containing choline and geranic acid (considered safe for humans), both of which can resist digestive enzymes. They can also pierce the mucus coating of the small intestine to deliver the insulin more efficiently.
As the pill navigates the digestive system, the outer coating protects insulin until it is stripped away by gastric juices. Then the inner contents are ready to shield the insulin from digestive enzymes long enough for it to reach the bloodstream.
The next step will be to conduct further animal studies to be sure the insulin pill is completely safe, and surely, human trials after that.
But, it’s entirely possible that, before too long, the inconvenience and health complications of insulin injections could be a thing of the past.
What should you do until then?
Well, if you have type 2 diabetes but are not reliant on insulin yet, do everything you can to improve insulin resistance and support your insulin-producing cells, including:
- Get sufficient vitamin D, the vitamin key to helping prevent diabetes.
- Work at saving your pancreatic cells using the brain neurotransmitter known as GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric Acid). Research says that both type 1 and type 2 diabetics may benefit.
- Lose weight. Research has found that losing enough weight soon enough after your diagnosis can whip beta cells back in shape, reversing type 2 diabetes.
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- Ionic liquids for oral insulin delivery — PNAS
- Diabetes: The insulin pill may finally be here — medicalnewstoday.com
- Insulin pill instead of shot: How close are we for diabetes patients? — CNN