Even though I’m a hospital consultant, I was in despair over my diabetes. Then I tried a new drug…

I have been a type 2 diabetic for at least five years. I turned up for work to anaesthetise patients in the operating theatres one day, feeling lousier than ever before, and developed palpitations. My blood pressure was measured by the recovery nurse and was 160/110. My breath smelled sweet. (Sweet breath equals diabetes until proven otherwise.)

So I got packed off to Casualty. There they also found my blood sugar was through the roof, as were my lipids. I was suddenly an official member of the ‘metabolic syndrome’ club. This shouldn’t have surprised me, really. I have been sloth-like and food-loving since birth. Ask any of my friends.

I was given time off work and saw my GP for the first time in decades. Despite feeling poorly for as long as I could remember, I put this down to my crazy working hours. And, even though I was a doctor myself, I wasn’t in the habit of doctor-bothering. It was strange to suddenly be on the receiving end of modern medicine. I was both humbled and consoled by the skill and compassion shown to me. I realised I wasn’t indestructible after all, and I needed help, and my colleagues were stepping up to the plate to provide it.

The old saying really is true. Doctors make the worst patients, medicate themselves instead of seeking help, and present their diseases late.

I was started on ramipril for my blood pressure, and simvastatin for my cholesterol. Both of these bog-standard treatments worked immediately. My blood sugar was more resistant, however. I was started on metformin, which stops the liver from making glucose from fats and amino acids. Even though it was ramped up to the max, my glucose control remained bad. That said, it is a good, old drug, very safe and ubiquitously used for type 2 diabetics like myself, and I remain on it.

Then I was started on gliclazide and sitagliptin. They work by flogging the failing pancreas to produce more insulin – but, again, even at maximum dosage, my long-term glucose control was not good. These drugs introduce the risk of blood sugar dropping to dangerously low levels if the supply of glucose, from the digesting food in the bowel, drops.

By this stage I was beginning to feel like a walking pharmacy – but still my diabetes dogged me. I often came over faint at random times of the day and would crave sugary foods and drinks. Like insulin injections, they also can make you put on weight. My waistline began to expand as, like most people, I tended to overindulge in food to ward off the frightening feeling of hypoglycaemia.

After four years, I wasn’t feeling well in myself either. There may have been a hint of depression and hopelessness creeping in. I was chronically tired, only able to sleep fitfully, and I suspected that my diabetes was beginning to ravage me.

This is where being a doctor can make your condition more scary. I knew that chronically raised blood sugar causes the smallest of blood vessels to grow abnormally. These are the tubes that supply blood to the cells of your brain, heart, kidneys, eyes, major blood vessels, and nerves and are essential for their health. The effects of poorly or untreated diabetes are the total degradation of all your critical organ systems. Stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, blindness, peripheral vascular disease and neuropathy are the fruits.

At this point I was offered insulin injections, which I was dead against, given my job: I work very irregular hours all around the clock. My access to food can be prevented by urgent clinical situations, and my ability to make sound clinical decisions is what I am well paid for. My fear was that if I went hypoglycaemic while in a tight spot, patients might die.

So, this spring, my doctor suggested I try a new drug called dapaglifozin and I jumped at the chance.

This medicine works by stopping the kidneys from reabsorbing glucose, so it gets peed out instead. The higher your blood sugar is, the more of it exits in the urine. You also lose all those unneeded calories painlessly: up to 70 grams per day. Genius! This drug can be used by type 2 diabetics. It reduces insulin requirements markedly. A potential side effect of sugary urine is an increased risk of urinary infections and thrush, more common for women than men. Adequate fluid intake to wash away all that sugar is essential. As a new drug, it is still being closely monitored by the authorities on these things.

Almost immediately I began to feel better. I had my first normal finger-prick glucose test results since my diabetes was diagnosed. My mood and energy lifted immediately and people began to remark on how well I looked. The inspiration to write this article came when I met up with an old schoolfriend. He was astonished by how healthy I looked. My weight is falling gently and I need fewer naps. I have had no side effects. I’m not claiming, of course, that this treatment is right for everyone – but, on my recommendation, my brother-in-law is about to start on dapaglifozin too.

Oh, and I’ve stopped planning for early retirement. Things are looking up.

  • mcmoggy

    Wow! Which of the other drugs were stopped?

    • Dr Brian Campbell

      I haven’t stopped any of the other drugs yet, but I have reduced my dose of gliclazide as it was giving me hypos.

      • Jadissock

        Thanks for sharing this – a really useful article, and proves that dear Damian’s cupcakophobia was entirely vindicated.

      • A splendid, positive, and Humanistic article regarding the everyday realities of this condition …as seen through the eyes of a Medical Professional who works within “the system”

  • Tarek

    Look into low-carbohydrate diets- ” Art and Science of Low Carb Living” by Volek summarises all the major literature over the last 20 years or so. Opens the eyes.

    Best of luck

    • Could not agree with you more Sir. Yes indeed, the increasingly overwhelming evidence which supports a LCHF lifestyle should lead many to “open their eyes”
      However, “Commercial interests” in relation to the Western diet, will continue to promote their products and practices as the Norm.
      We must not forget that such commercial entities have a huge influence upon the Public perceptions of “what is right” …How do we ever overcome the damaging and cynical lies propagated by such Entities?
      Perhaps, some sort of widely promoted (almost evangelical) public crusade is needed.
      Play these people at their own game.

      • Tarek

        I think we have to play the long game. The special interests, other than money, have an even more useful resource: a plentiful supply of useful idiots in positions of authority who do their work for them based on sheer, deliberate ignorance. More and more people are taking control of their health, reading independently, seeking out ” alternative” view points and going online to publicise the results of ignoring traditional nutritional and medical orthodoxy, and this is snowballing. There is a lively and growing community at least in the US led by some truly outstanding individuals, both medical and non-medical and the truth will out, even if it takes years.

        • The evidence that would lead one to question the traditional “orthodoxy” is indeed snowballing.
          And yes, it will be a long game.
          However, as long as people such as yourself continue to promote logical and independent thinking …then yes, the truth will out eventually …even if it does take years.
          (perhaps not in our lifetime though)
          But …We can’t let the World die, just because no one would try…