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Are Diabetic Medications Vegan-Friendly?

What is Diabetes Mellitus?

Most of the food we consume is broken down into glucose (sugar) and released into our bloodstream. Our body utilizes sugar as an energy source with the help of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas to help deliver glucose into our cells. However, when the body doesn't produce enough insulin or fails to respond normally to it, a condition called diabetes mellitus occurs. This leads to an accumulation of sugar in the blood.


Diabetes mellitus can be classified into three types:

  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus: The body doesn’t make enough insulin due to autoimmune destruction of the pancreatic beta cells. Without an adequate amount of insulin, blood sugar levels become elevated. Approximately 5-10% of people with diabetes have type 1 diabetes mellitus.

  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus: The body fails to respond normally to insulin and becomes resistant to the effects of insulin. As a result, insulin is not utilized properly, and blood sugar levels become difficult to control. Around 90-95% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes mellitus.

  • Gestational diabetes: Diabetes that occurs in pregnant women who have never had diabetes. Approximately 2-10% of pregnant women are affected by gestational diabetes every year. Gestational diabetes usually resolves after childbirth; however, the mother is at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus later in life. For the purpose of this post, we will primarily focus on type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus, as these two conditions typically require ongoing medication management.

Diagnosis of Diabetes Mellitus

There are several blood tests available to help detect diabetes mellitus. If the initial lab results indicate the possibility of diabetes, a definitive diagnosis is typically made after the patient undergoes a second test, and the results consistently indicate the presence of diabetes.

Diabetes Diagnosis Chart

Blood Glucose Goals

Blood Glucose Goals

For patients with diabetes, it is important to maintain blood sugar levels within a normal range to prevent the occurrence of long-term complications.


What are the Signs and Symptoms of Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes Signs and Symptoms

If left untreated, diabetes can progressively worsen and lead to severe complications. These complications include recurrent infections, vision changes, decreased circulation, peripheral neuropathy (ulceration), and poor dental hygiene.


Failure to address the condition can lead to end-stage outcomes such as retinopathy, the need for dialysis, end-stage renal disease (ESRD), cardiovascular disease, peripheral vascular disease, and amputation.


What are the Treatment Options for Diabetes Mellitus?

The treatment of diabetes mellitus typically involves a combination of non-pharmacologic and pharmacologic approaches.


Non-pharmacologic options primarily revolve around making lifestyle changes:

  • Dietary changes:

    • Avoid or significantly reduce the consumption of foods with high sugar content

    • Utilize the plate method, which consists of dividing a 9-inch diameter plate into the following: ½ nonstarch vegetables, ¼ carbohydrate, and ¼ protein. Accompany meals with water or zero-calorie beverages.

  • Increased exercise/physical activity:

    • Incorporate at least 150 minutes of moderately-intense exercise per week into your routine. This can be achieved by exercising for 20-30 minutes each day, with at least 2 days of exercise involving all major muscle groups.

In addition to lifestyle changes, pharmacologic options can be considered to reduce the risk of diabetes and its associated complications. Typically, newly diagnosed patients with type 2 diabetes will begin treatment with metformin (Glucophage, Glucophage XR), an oral tablet that can improve the body’s response to insulin and lower blood sugar levels. As indicated in the chart below, metformin from certain manufacturers has been verified to be animal-free. Other oral medications and insulins may be prescribed in addition to metformin; however, not all of these products are animal-free. Common oral medications and insulins are listed below, along with their verified animal-free status.

Diabetes Treatment Oral Agents
Diabetes Treatment Injectable Agents

Precautions

Patients who rely on pharmacotherapy for the management of diabetes should be aware of the potential risk of hypoglycemia, which occurs when the blood sugar level falls too low. Signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia include shakiness, confusion, anxiety, abnormal heart rate, sweating, and hunger.


In addition, other common side effects of most diabetes pharmacotherapies include nausea, upset stomach, and headaches.


Conclusion

Managing diabetes mellitus is a long-term commitment, and our team at VeganMed is dedicated to assisting individuals in finding vegan-friendly alternatives for those seeking animal-free medications. However, it is crucial to consult your healthcare provider to determine the most suitable treatment plan for you, as not all medications are suitable for everyone, and individualized approaches are necessary. We have done independent research and verified with manufacturers to confirm the source of medications listed on our webpage. If you have questions about a particular medication not included in our list, please don't hesitate to contact us at VeganMed.org/contact-us.


Co-authored by: Alexa Capule, Suliman Sayah, Frank Son


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Disclaimer: The product and/or information provided on VeganMed is of a general nature and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We do not lab test the products to confirm that they are free from animal ingredients, and it is possible that the formulation and ingredients could have changed. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or product.

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Thank you for your awareness and concern for animal-derived ingredients!


If you have any further questions about ingredients in your medicines and supplements, feel free to reach out to the VeganMed team!


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