Stopping Diabetes Medications: Risks and Rewards

Health Writer
View as:|
1 of 12

If you wear glasses to see more clearly, you’d probably never consider ditching them – that would be counterproductive, right? After all, those glasses help to correct your vision and allow you to maintain all activities requiring good eyesight. So, if you’re diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and prescribed medication, why would you stop taking it? These drugs are essentially saving your life. Yet, according to a 2018 study, most patients with type 2 stop medications within one year, and nearly a third stop within the first three months.


Discontinuing medications

According to a study presented at the 78th Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association, getting people to stay on their type 2 medications is a challenge. Dr. Latts, the chief investigator in the large retrospective analysis involving 324,136 individuals, found that 58 percent discontinued treatment during first year, 32 percent discontinued within the first three months, and 44 percent discontinued medications within the first six months.


Many eventually restart their medication

Of those who stopped their medications after three months, 45 percent re-started therapy with in the next year, while 44 percent of those who stopped their medications by the six-month mark had restarted the drugs within a year. So, the gap in treatment for some, was just that – a temporary lapse of therapy – not a good decision but ultimately a temporary decision. Unfortunately, others abandoned their medications for good.


Which medications were commonly stopped?

The majority of the newly diagnosed type 2 patients abandoned metformin. Other drugs that were prescribed and discontinued included sulfonylureas, insulin, SGLT2 inhibitors (like canagliflozin), dapagliflozin, and empagliflozin. Being committed to your drug therapy is crucial to better clinical outcomes and frankly, in the case of diabetes, limiting the risk of some very serious outcomes including heart disease, compromised circulation, ulcers, and gangrene in extremities.


Sticking with drug therapy is tough

Diabetes is not the only chronic condition with poor drug compliance. Let’s face it – being stuck on a drug for what may be the rest of your life is not what most people want to deal with. It means you have to remember to take the medication, budget for it, and get regular blood tests. You may also have to be careful with other drugs and have a list of do’s and don’ts associated with the therapy.


Lifestyle changes can reduce the need for medications

Lifestyle changes can shift your blood sugar profile and allow you to ease off medications. Sleep deprivation is a significant risk factor for diabetes. Getting only between four and six hours of sleep seems to raise the risk of diabetes, because you may be missing out on sufficient restorative sleep which helps to regulate blood sugar and support insulin sensitivity.


Watching waist size

A woman’s whose waist is greater than 35 inches and a man whose waist is over 40 inches may have a higher risk of diabetes. Diabetes UK defines a large waist with even more strict parameters (31.5 inches for a female, 37 inches for a Caucasian male). A high BMI (over 30) is considered a strong risk factor for diabetes.


Are you moving enough?

Sitting too much is linked to metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes. It's easy to find yourself sitting in your car, at work, on public transportation, video gaming, watching TV, texting, and spending hours in front of a computer screen. Even if you commit to exercising one hour every morning, you may not be doing enough to combat your sedentary lifestyle and its impact on your weight and metabolic health.


Watching your blood pressure

A 2015 study found that if you have high blood pressure, you have a 50 percent increased risk of developing diabetes. If you want to lower high blood pressure and limit your diabetes risk, then focus on losing excess weight, exercising regularly, and reducing sodium in your diet, and limiting alcohol and caffeine consumption. The Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet have been shown to help lower blood pressure just with food choices.

Look closer at diets for diabetes

Going vegetarian may lower blood pressure as long as you choose mostly whole foods – fruits, vegetables, unprocessed grains, nuts, and legumes. Adding fish can help because the omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory. Counting carbs diligently can also help to lower blood sugar fluctuations. In some cases, following a fasting diet can help but remember to consult your doctor first.


Ketogenic diets

There’s research to suggest that a ketogenic diet (there are many versions) may help to modify type 2 diabetes, lowering blood sugar levels. Essentially you limit carb intake, replacing it with fats. Some experts believe that a better choice is to add more protein while also adding in healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, and flaxseed. The goal is to find a sustainable diet that suits your taste preferences and personal health goals. The key is to avoid yo-yo dieting.


Reducing instead of discontinuing medications

If you have diabetes, then sticking with your medication is crucial. When you commit to taking it, you reduce your risk of other conditions like a heart attack or stroke, and you will also limit diabetes complications. Get inspired to modify your need for these medications by researching some of these recommendations. Wanting to get off your medications – if possible – is a good thing. Stopping medications on your own – is not.