A common high blood pressure medication is showing new promise to help manage and reverse type 1 diabetes. This drug has been around for over 25 years, but now researchers suggest it could have another significant use.
It’s the standard anti-hypertension drug verapamil, sold under the names of Isoptin, Verelan, and Calan. Besides reducing blood pressure levels, this calcium channel blocker may also reduce blood glucose levels in people with diabetes.
The research, initially designed to analyze stroke, involved 4,978 participants with the majority being on diabetes drugs, oral agents, or insulin or both. It was not known which of them had type 1 diabetes and which type 2.
Around 1,500 of them were on calcium channel blockers, 174 out of which took verapamil.
The results showed that the participants on verapamil had around 10mg/dL lower fasting blood glucose levels than non-users of any calcium channel blockers. But, the average blood glucose of those on insulin verapamil was 118 mg/dl, whereas that of non-users 156.
Keep in mind that fasting glucose under 100 is normal, while 126 is diabetes.
Even though the difference might not be statistically significant, it means about 1% change in A1C. And, as researchers explain, it could be the difference between normal and not.
A calcium channel blocker doesn’t let the calcium enter the heart cells and those of blood vessel walls, thus relaxing the blood vessels. This, in turn, makes the heart pump blood easier than before.
This is what happens when the drug is used for cardiovascular problems. However, a more recent animal research discovered that verapamil prevents the death of beta cells responsible for producing insulin.
What’s more, it reversed diabetes and improved the management of diabetes related to obesity.
It does this by lowering the expression of TXNIP – a protein which kills beta cells as a result of blood sugar levels higher than average.
So, researchers showed that verapamil could provide pharmacological inhibition of this protein in animals. What’s more, the drug succeeded to mimic its effects after it was genetically deleted, thus keeping the beta cells.
Moreover, the drug helped normalize blood glucose levels even in animals with full-blown diabetes.
Now, researchers are trying to prove the same effects of verapamil in people. They plan to see the drug’s effects in 52 people with type 1 diabetes. Half of them will take the drug for a year, while the other half will take a placebo.
Only then can researchers conclude if verapamil helps preserve insulin-producing beta cells and improve the production of insulin in people.
And, if the study is successful, the drug can become quickly available for people with type 1 diabetes since the FDA already approves it as a hypertension drug.