Diabetes Medications: Insulin, Oral Meds & Natural Options

Clinical review: Flávia Costa
Pharmacist
August 2022
  1. Type 1 meds
  2. Type 2 meds
  3. Meds for weight loss
  4. Home remedies

Diabetes medication, for type 1 and 2, control blood sugar levels to keep them within a normal range. Maintaining normal blood sugar levels can help prevent complications like retinopathy and kidney failure. 

With type 1 diabetes, the main medication is insulin, which should be used on a daily basis. With type 2 diabetes, oral antidiabetics, like metformin, glimepiride and gliclazide are usually prescribed. In addition, it is also important to maintain a diet with limited sugar and fat, and to exercise every day. 

Medications vary from patient to patient and depend on many factors, like the type diabetes, the severity, and the age of the patient. Treatment should be monitored by an endocrinologist or family doctor. 

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Type 1 diabetes medication 

In this type of diabetes, the pancreas is either unable to produce insulin or produces it in small small quantities. Treatment is aimed at simulating the natural production of this hormone, at the same times and in the same quantities that a normally-functioning pancreas would produce it. Quantities and scheduling will vary from person to person. 

To simulate the action of the pancreas, patients are often advised to use at least 2 types of insulin, which include: 

Type of insulin

Generic Names

How it is used

Fast-acting insulin

Regular, Aspart, Lispro, Glulisine

It is usually used immediately after eating to maintain normal blood sugar levels after consuming food. It prevent glucose from accumulating in the blood.

Slow-acting insulin

NPH, Detemir, Glargine

It is generally used once or twice per day, as it acts for 12 to 24 hours. In some people, in can maintain blood sugar levels for up to 30 hours.

These medications can be obtained at any pharmacy with a prescription medication. 

To help reduce the number of injections per day, some of these insulins can be prepared as a combination, with both fast-acting and slow-acting insulins mixed together. 

Another option for type 1 diabetics is to use an insulin pump. This is a small device that is connected to the body and is programmed to release fast-acting or slow-acting insulin, depending on the person’s blood sugar levels. 

Type 2 diabetes medication 

Oral hypoglycemiants and antidiabetics are the medications most used by type 2 diabetics. These can be taken on their own or as a combination, and they work to control blood sugar levels. Some examples include:  

Medication

Class

How it works

Common side effects 

Metformin

Biguanide

Decreases glucose production in the liver, improves the use of glucose by the body 

Nausea or diarrhea

Glibenclamide, Glimepiride, Glipizide, Gliclazide

Sulfonylurea

Stimulates and increases insulin production in the pancreas 

Hypoglycemia or weight gain

Acarbose, Miglitol

Alpha-glucosidase inhibitor 

Decreases absorption of glucose from food at the intestinal level 

Increased intestinal gas or diarrhea 

Rosiglitazone, Pioglitazone

Thiazolidinedione

Improves the use of glucose by the body 

Weight gain, swelling or worsening of cardiac failure 

Exenatide, Liraglutide

GLP-1 Agonist

Increases insulin release, decreases glucose levels, increases satiety and makes weight loss easier 

Nausea, decreased appetite 

Saxagliptin, Sitagliptin, Linagliptin

DPP-4 inhibitor

Decreases glucose levels after meals, increases insulin production

Nausea

Dapagliflozin, Empagliflozin, Canagliflozin

SGLT2 inhibitor

Increases the elimination of glucose through the urine and promotes weight loss 

Increased risk for UTI 

In cases with very elevated glucose levels, or when oral medications are not effective, the doctor may include insulin injections in the treamtent. To treat type 2 diabetes, sugar, carb, gat and salt intake should all be controlled. Patients should also engage in regular physical activity. 

Diabetes medication and with weight loss

Medications for diabetes should not be used by people who are not diabetic and are looking to lose weight. This can be a health hazard. Medications used to control sugar levels often lead to weight loss in diabetics, because blood sugars are better managed and the patient often has less of an appetite.  

Nonetheless, these medications should not be used by non-diabetics. To lose weight, you should opt for foods that naturally manage blood sugar levels, like cinnamon, passion fruit peel flour, and ground golden flax seeds.  

Home remedies for diabetes 

Natural remedies for diabetes are a great way to complement medical treatment. These remedies contain properties that help reduce glucose levels in the blood. Some teas that can be used for blood sugars are gorse tea, cinnamon tea and salvia tea. Check out other teas for diabetes that are scientifically proven to lower glucose levels.

Another great home remedy is using passion fruit peel flour, as it contain pectin. Pectin is a fiber that acts on the reduction of glucose in the blood. Read other tips for lowering blood sugar that you can use to incorporate into your treatment.

When treating diabetes, it is important to avoid eating foods that are high in sugar or carbs, like fruit jellies, cookies and potatoes. You should consume foods that are rich in fiber like vegetables, apples, flax seeds, whole wheat bread and natural fruit juices. Learn more about what to eat and avoid for a diabetic diet.

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Edited by Tua Saude editing team in August 2022. Clinical review completed by Flávia Costa - Pharmacist in August 2022.

References

  • CARVALHO, D.; et al. Agonistas dos Receptores do GLP-1 no Tratamento da Diabetes Tipo 2. Revista Portuguesa de Diabetes. 11. 4; 154-166, 2016
  • ATKINSON, M. A; EISENBARTH, G. S.; MICHELS, A. W. Type 1 diabetes. Lancet. 383. 9911; 69-82, 2014
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  • ELI LILLY DO BRASIL LTDA. Humalog solução injetável. 2020. Available on: <https://docs.google.com/gview?url=https://uploads.consultaremedios.com.br/drug_leaflet/Bula-Humalog-Paciente-Consulta-Remedios.pdf?1601071135&embedded=true>. Access in 09 Nov 2021
Clinical review:
Flávia Costa
Pharmacist
Graduated in Pharmacy at Centro Universitário Newton Paiva, Brazil, in 2003. Master in Biomedical Sciences at UBI, Portugal.