February 8, 2008

In The News: A Diabetes Dilemma?

Oh boy.

The New York Times
is reporting on a diabetes study that has been abruptly halted due to a much-higher than expected participant death rate among those most carefully controlling their blood sugar levels.

The "major federal study... found that lowering blood sugar actually increased... risk of death," the article explains.

"The findings inject an element of uncertainty into what has been dogma -- that the lower the blood sugar the better and that lowering blood sugar levels to normal saves lives," it continues.

This is a perfect example of a study finding being misconstrued.

Let's consider a few facts.

The average participant was 62 years old, had been living with diabetes for approximately 10 years, and also had other conditions, like high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Patients were randomly assigned one of three treatments -- controlling blood sugar, controlling cholesterol, and controlling blood pressure.

The group strictly controlling only blood sugar had a higher death rate. The cause behind most of them? Heart disease.

It annoys me that this could be erroneously interpreted, wrongly accusing blood sugar monitoring of increasing one's risk of dying of heart disease.

It is clear that when it comes to diabetes, blood glucose levels must be carefully monitored and tracked.

It is by no means unsafe; in fact, consistent, strict monitoring is encouraged.

I spoke with New York University clinical nutrition assistant professor Lisa Sasson about this study.

She agrees that the study might be misconstrued and people living with diabetes might wrongly start questioning the importance of controlling their blood sugar.

In reality, they should be considering the bigger picture of the study and its subjects.

"If these people were strictly controlling only their blood sugar, it is very likely that to compensate for certain foods they were restricting, they were consuming calories from salty or fatty foods that exacerbated the other conditions," she says.

Sasson thinks the issue isn't that controlling blood sugar leads to death, but rather that concentrating on only one of many health conditions is too narrow of a focus.

Sasson expressed some frustration with the state of research. "I wish that the bulk of research would focus more on prevention. With a lot of these conditions -- diabetes, cancer, heart disease -- the key is prevention. Once you have them, it's a real problem."

1 comment:

Bernard said...

The reporting on this outcome has just been terrible. It amazes me how much the media blows this out of proportion and how many d-bloggers are correcting these false impressions.

Without a doubt concentrating on one thing without considering which is most important for you is only going to cause problems. Thanks for working to clear this up.