African Americans Respond Better to Diabetes Rx

Metformin reduces blood sugar in black patients more than twice as much as in whites

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Managing adult onset diabetes, which often develops in overweight patients, affects an estimated 29 million Americans and can lead to a number of complications.

One of the treatments for diabetes, a prescription drug called metformin, according to new research, could be more effective in African Americans as compared to their white counterparts.

A large study in the greater Detroit area found that the common drug was more than twice as effective at reducing blood sugar levels for black people.

"A healthy diet and physical activity could help reduce chances of diabetes."

L. Keoki Williams, MD, MPH, of the Henry Ford Health System based in Detroit, Michigan, led the research.

The researchers set out to determine if metformin, a common diabetes medication, affects people differently based on their ethnicity.

Adult onset diabetes, or type 2 diabetes, occurs when the body stops responding properly to insulin, the hormone that moves sugar from the blood into cells where it’s converted into energy.

Insulin injections and metformin treatments can help control blood sugar levels.

Dr. Williams and his colleagues looked through medical records for patients who had diabetes, who had used at least two prescription cycles of metformin and had two more recorded blood sugar measurements.

They identified 19,672 study participants; 7,429 were African American and 8,783 were European American with respective baseline blood sugar concentrations of 7.81 percent and 7.38 percent.

On average for the entire group, metformin use was associated with a 0.62 percent decrease in blood sugar level.

But, when looking at the effect of metformin by ethnicity, Dr. Williams and team found a significant difference.

For African Americans, metformin use led to a 0.90 percent decrease in blood sugar while for the European Americans, metformin led to a 0.42 percent reduction.

In this study, metformin reduced blood sugar in African Americans by more than twice as much as in European Americans.

“Our findings suggest that African Americans who have diabetes actually respond better to metformin than whites,” Dr. Williams said in a prepared statement.

“These differences in treatment response are clinically important,” he said. “Since African Americans are more likely to suffer from diabetic complications when compared with white individuals, it is heartening to observe that metformin is likely more effective at controlling blood glucose in the former group.”

The study team acknowledges that more research is needed to analyze whether the differing ethnic response to metformin is associated with a similar difference in complications from diabetes.

The study was published June 12 in the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

The researchers did not disclose any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
June 16, 2014
Last Updated:
June 17, 2014