Treatments for Diabetes
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2022 | Last updated: January 2023
Why is type 2 diabetes treatment important?
Type 2 diabetes is a disease where the level of glucose (also called blood sugar) in a person’s bloodstream becomes too high (hyperglycemia).1,2 Glucose is the source of the body’s energy, but it is not produced by the body, so people must consume it through foods and drinks. The pancreas, an organ located near the stomach, produces a hormone called insulin and releases it into the bloodstream. Insulin moves glucose from the blood into the body's cells to fuel them with energy.
People with type 2 diabetes can have high glucose for two different reasons. In some people with type 2 diabetes, the pancreas does not naturally make enough insulin to process the amount of glucose they consume. In other people with type 2 diabetes, the pancreas produces insulin that does not work well enough to transfer the glucose from blood into the cells (insulin resistance). Healthcare providers diagnose type 2 diabetes using various blood tests to measure the level of glucose in a person’s blood, as well as asking the person about any symptoms that may be related to the disease.
If type 2 diabetes is not treated, it leads to a buildup of glucose in a person’s bloodstream over time that can cause serious health problems related to the heart, kidneys, eyes, and nervous system. However, the risks of developing these kinds of health problems can be lowered if your type 2 diabetes is managed well. The primary goal of type 2 diabetes management is to keep the level of glucose in your bloodstream to a target set by your physician to help prevent complications.1
How is type 2 diabetes treated?
Some people who have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes can manage their disease through lifestyle management. This involves maintaining a healthy diet and getting regular physical exercise, which helps to lower blood sugar levels and help the body use insulin more effectively.4
People who cannot control their type 2 diabetes with lifestyle management alone may need to take one or more diabetes medications as well. Fortunately, there is a wide range of drug treatment options available to manage type 2 diabetes. However, it may take some time for you and your healthcare providers to find the best treatment, or combination of treatments, for controlling your blood sugar and reducing your risk of developing health problems related to type 2 diabetes.
Drugs that Increase the Effects of Insulin - this category of type 2 diabetes drugs increases a person’s insulin sensitivity through various actions, which reduces the amount of insulin needed to transform glucose into energy:5
Insulin Secretagogues - this category of type 2 diabetes medication directly stimulates release of insulin from the pancreas:
Incretin-Based Drugs - this category of type 2 diabetes drugs works on various parts of the incretin system to increase the effects of incretin, ultimately reducing blood glucose levels:
- Dipeptidyl peptidase 4 inhibitors (DPP-4 inhibitors)
- Glucagonlike peptide-1 agonists (GLP-1 agonists)
Drugs that Block Glucose Reuptake - this class of drugs help to lower blood sugar by preventing the kidneys from reabsorbing glucose into the body:
Amylin Analogs - This class of injectable medicines for type 2 diabetes work by making food move more slowly through the stomach and also curb appetite:
Others - less common treatment options that are available as possible treatment options
- Bile acid sequestrant - This category of medication reduces the amount of glucose produced by the liver, which helps to lower blood sugar.
- Dopamine agonist - This medication class lowers blood glucose levels by increasing dopamine receptor activity in the brain:
Combination treatments - This treatment class for type 2 diabetes contain two different types of diabetes medications in a single dose to decrease the number of medications taken and in turn, help improve adherence:
Insulin -To control their blood sugar levels, some people may need to take insulin in addition to other types of diabetes medications and lifestyle management. There are several different types of insulin:6
- Rapid acting insulins
- Short-acting insulins
- Intermediate-acting insulins
- Long-acting insulins
- Ultra long-acting insulins
- Premixed insulin products, which combine different types of insulin in a single injection
A key part of managing your type 2 diabetes is making sure you take all your prescribed medications regularly and on time, so that they can work as effectively as possible. It is important to let your healthcare provider know about any side effects your medications cause, and you should never stop taking a medication without talking with your healthcare provider first.
What are complementary and alternative therapies for type 2 diabetes?
Some people with type 2 diabetes may choose to try complementary and alternative therapies to help with the symptoms of type 2 diabetes and/or the other health problems it can cause. These kinds of therapies should only be used in addition to—not instead of—lifestyle management and any prescribed medicines or treatments. Be cautious about any complementary or alternative therapy that claims to “cure” diabetes, because there is no scientific evidence that any of them can do so. Complementary and alternative medicines have often not been tested for effectiveness and their claims are not regulated by the FDA in the same way that drugs are, so there is not a lot of research about their value in helping manage diabetes. If you have type 2 diabetes and are thinking about trying any kind of complementary or alternative therapy, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider for advice about side effects and how to use them in a way that does not interact with your other medications.
Some of the complementary and alternative therapies that are used by patients with type 2 diabetes include:
- Movement therapy
- Massage therapy
- Chiropractic therapy
What are natural remedies for type 2 diabetes?
Natural remedies are a type of complementary and alternative therapy that includes herbal, plant-based, or dietary supplements. There is growing evidence to suggest that some natural remedies may be linked to improved blood sugar control and other types of benefits for people with type 2 diabetes,5 but further research is needed to better understand the effects of natural remedies. It is very important to talk with your healthcare provider if you are thinking about using natural remedies, herbs, vitamins, or supplements of any kind. Some natural remedies can interact with your prescribed diabetes medications in ways that can make the medications less effective, and can even cause dangerous side effects and serious health problems.
Some of the natural remedies used by people with type 2 diabetes are:
- Alpha-lipoic acid
- Calcium and Vitamin D
- Green tea and alma
- Guar gum