Knowledge is Power

Patient Expert

A Swedish study has shown that teaching type 2 diabetes patients about their disease results in greater decreases in the hemoglobin A1c test than many drugs.

The abstract, Improvements in HBA1C remain after 5 years: a follow up of an educational intervention focusing on patients' personal understandings of type 2 diabetes, is online, but the full study results, to be published in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, is not yet available.

At the beginning of the study, the control group and the treatment group both had A1c's of around 5.7 (5.78 in the controls and 5.71 in the intervention group.

After 5 years, the control group's A1c increased to 7.08, above the recommended level even for the superconservative American Diabetes Association (ADA). In the intervention group, the A1c remained at 5.71, a difference of 1.37.

The average diabetes drug reduces the A1c by about 1 point, so simply letting the patients become informed about their disease, "focusing on patients' own needs and questions" worked better than any drug

"These findings indicate that group sessions in patients with DM2 focusing on patients' personal understanding of their illness are more effective than conventional diabetes care with regard to metabolic control," the authors write.

Until the complete study is available, we won't know what kind of advice the patients were given. Were they told to count carbohydrates? Eat a lot of starchy foods and avoid fat, as in the ADA diet that is so disastrous for some people with type 2? Use their meters to discover for themselves what they could eat?

It will be interesting to find out.

But in the meantime we know that keeping patients informed is working better than drugs, and any sources that can help patients understand this very complex disease will help with their control.

This could include local support groups, books, or online communities like HealthCentral that allow patients to do just what the abstract said these researchers did: focus on patients "own needs and questions."

Knowledge is power (to coin a phrase). Now it seems it's more powerful than drugs. It also costs less and has very few side effects.

So keep on reading. Keep on learning. Use what works for you. And keep your numbers as close to normal as you can.