Worldwide, there are about 200 million people with diabetes, so it's not surprising that the pharmaceutical industry is hard at work developing new drugs to treat the condition. (What company wouldn't want to discover a cure for diabetes? Can you spell "ka-ching"?)

A new class of drugs called DPP-IV inhibitors designed for people with type 2 diabetes may be closest to reaching the market.

About New Diabetes Medications

Incretins are hormones produced by the intestines that instruct the pancreas to make insulin when you eat. An enzyme called DPP-IV turns off incretin; DPP-IV inhibitors block the enzyme, which in theory should allow for greater insulin production. Early studies show that people with type 2 diabetes who take the drug experience impressive dips in blood sugar. Several companies are developing their own versions of the drug.

Another drug that could benefit people with diabetes and may become available by 2007 has a curious history. Scientists have long known that smoking marijuana makes people ravenously hungry for pizza, potato chips, cookies, and other high-calorie foods. (Yes, this phenomenon has actually been proven in lab studies, even though the same scientists could have amassed equally convincing evidence by walking into practically any college dorm in the country.)

Some buzz-kill researchers came up with an idea: Would turning off cell receptors in the brain that are stimulated by chemicals in marijuana eliminate "the munchies"? And if so, could doing so help people who battle the bulge control appetite?

A French pharmaceutical company developed a drug called rimonabant that does just that. A 2005 study found that overweight people who took rimonabant for a year sustained an average weight loss of 15 pounds, while a similar group of people who took empty placebo pills lost just 4 pounds.

This news alone should be of interest to people with type 2 diabetes who struggle with weight problems. However, rimonabant also seems to produce a modest but significant drop in blood sugar, beyond the glucose improvement that might be expected from simply losing weight.

The drug also raises HDL ("good") cholesterol and lowers unhealthy blood fats called triglycerides, which decrease the risk for heart disease. If the drug is approved by the FDA, some doctors who treat people with diabetes have already said they plan to prescribe it to patients with mildly elevated blood sugar.

Timothy Gower is a freelance writer and the author of several books. His work has appeared in many magazines and newspapers, including Prevention, Health, Reader's Digest, Better Homes and Gardens, Men's Health, Esquire, Fortune, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times.

ABOUT THE CONSULTANTS:

Allen Bennett King, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.C.E., C.D.E., received his degrees and training at the University of California, Berkeley; Creighton University Medical School; the University of Colorado Medical Center; and Stanford University Medical Center. He is the author of more than 50 papers in medical science and speaks nationally on new advances in diabetes.This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider. The brand name products mentioned in this publication are trademarks or service marks of their respective companies. The mention of any product in this publication does not constitute an endorsement by the respective proprietors of Publications International, Ltd. or HowStuffWorks.com, nor does it constitute an endorsement by any of these companies that their products should be used in the manner described in this publication.