New findings have suggested that a drug commonly used to manage type 2 diabetes could actually also prevent cardiovascular complications.
The large clinical trial found that liraglutide, which lowers glucose, can effectively reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, or cardiovascular death for people with type 2 diabetes.
This is significant as people with the condition are at a higher risk of suffering from heart problems. However, the drug was also associated with a reduction in kidney disease and death from all causes.
Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the findings were the result of an international clinical trial called Liraglutide Effect and Action in Diabetes Evaluation of Cardiovascular Outcome Results (LEADER).
The LEADER study included more than 9,300 people with type 2 diabetes who were at high risk of heart disease. Around half of these were given liraglutide and the rest were asked to take other diabetes medications to control their blood sugar during the trial.
Both groups of patients were prescribed medications to address associated health problems, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Bringing together 700 institutions across 32 countries, the study marks the first time that a diabetes drug used to lower blood sugar has been found to have such wide-reaching health benefits for patients.
Dr John Buse, senior author of the study and director of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Diabetes Care Center, said liraglutide has been exciting for a long time because it's unique.
He said it is the first diabetes drug that has shown across-the-board benefits for cardiovascular diseases, which suggests it plays a role in atherosclerosis, leading to heart attacks and strokes.
The three-year study found that liraglutide was associated with a 13 per cent lower overall risk of having a heart attack or stroke, and a 22 per cent lower risk of dying from a cardiovascular disease.
In addition, it was associated with a 15 per cent lower risk of all-cause mortality and a 22 per cent lower risk of new evidence of advanced kidney disease.
"This changes the whole conversation about treating diabetes," Dr Buse said. "To date, people have taken diabetes drugs to lower blood sugar. Now we can say that they should take liraglutide to prevent or delay the worst things that occur commonly in diabetes - heart attacks, strokes, advanced kidney disease, and death."
He said the next steps will involve looking at whether combining different drugs can help manage the multiple problems that arise from type 2 diabetes, which currently affects more than 370 million people worldwide.
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