Sulfonylureas are a class of anti-diabetic drugs that act by increasing insulin release from beta cells of the pancreas. Glyburide and glimepiride are considered second-generation sulfonylureas and are the most commonly used compounds in anti diabetic medications. Of the many side effects it can cause, increased risk of cancer is one that diabetics are most afraid of.
Glyburide, it seems, has a greater risk of cancer in patients of type 2 diabetes than other sulfonylureas. In a study published in Diabetes Care in 2015, researchers followed more than 280,000 type 2 diabetics. Out of these 4105 patients were diagnosed with cancer. This study showed that higher cumulative doses of glyburide were associated with cancer risk.
Glyburide was found to trigger the production of reactive oxygen species, chemicals that can cause oxidative damage to the cells of the body. These reactive chemical entities are known to cause cancer (pro-oncogenic). And it seems that only glyburide, by its action on the body, causes the production of these charged species, and not other sulfonylureas.
The risk of cancer with glyburide was also dependent upon duration of use. It was found that the risk of cancer was 21% greater after 36 months use in patients who were 40 years and above and who were recently prescribed a second-generation sulfonylurea compound.
The prevalence and epidemic proportions of type 2 diabetes has necessitated the invention of new anti diabetic medications each year, of which glyburide is a popular member. However, newer, more serious, health complications and side effects are also being discovered, making it difficult for physicians to prescribe these medications with confidence.
M.D.s today acknowledge that there is a need for a more holistic approach to chronic conditions. Chronic conditions often involve multiple bodily systems. The conventional medical approach often looks at each system separately, whereas chronic diseases seem to respond best to a holistic, functional approach.
The increased risk of cancer with long term use of a promising drug candidate like glyburide is a matter of great concern. Chronic diseases need a functional medicine approach, one that focusses on diet, exercise, stress management and dietary supplements, to reverse chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes.