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Health Notes: Diabetes Study/Ecstasy Use - 2001-08-20

The results of a new study say people can significantly lower their risk of developing Type II diabetes and new research suggests that the illegal drug Ecstasy may be hard to stop.

The National Institutes of Health have announced the results of a study showing that diet and exercise can significantly lower the risk of Type II diabetes for the 10 million people believed to be on the verge of developing the disease. The findings came from a clinical trial called "Diabetes Prevention Program." It compared diet and exercise to treatment with the drug "metformin" in people who have a pre-diabetic condition.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, spoke about the findings at a news conference. He said "results of diabetes-prevention programs point conclusively to two ways that at-risk populations are able to delay or prevent the development of Type II diabetes. With just a reasonable amount of exercise and changes in diet, you can reduce a person's risk of developing Type II diabetes by 58 percent. By losing only [4.5-6.8 kg], cutting down on fat intake and by exercising only one-half hour a day, people at risk of getting diabetes can significantly reduce the odds."

The results of the study were so clear and so impressive, that federal officials halted the study a year early.

Type II diabetes is a chronic degenerative disease characterized by elevated sugar levels, caused primarily by obesity and sedentary living. It results in kidney disease, limb amputations and acquired blindness in adults. It also increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The rate of Type II diabetes has tripled in the last 30 years and is now reaching epidemic proportions in the United States. And where once it was a disease that developed in adulthood, it's now being diagnosed in people at increasingly younger ages even children.

Several recent studies have found that use of the illegal drug MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy, is sharply increasing among many age groups. But one study has looked at the feelings and impressions of Ecstasy users perhaps providing insight into why the use of the drug continues to grow.

Dr. Robert Carlson of the Wright State University School of Medicine in Ohio says many Ecstasy users do not think the drug is particularly dangerous. "Despite the occasional stories in the media about the negative consequences of use including overdoses and deaths most [study] participants overwhelmingly perceived it as a relatively benign drug. Hearing the occasional story on the news about an overdose death may make some people more cautious particularly about using other drugs while using MDMA, but such stories do not appear to be dissuading people from use," said Dr. Carlson.

He said many Ecstasy users appear to give as much weight to warnings about the drug as they do to warnings about potential dangers in the ocean. "We might hear from authoritative sources that you can get attacked by a shark in the ocean," he said, "you can drown, you might be exposed to toxic chemicals. But all your friends swim in the ocean and they have a tremendous time."

Dr. Carlson studied attitudes and drug use among high school and college students with funding from the U.S. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and the National Institute on Drug Abuse. He says given the popular perceptions about Ecstasy, convincing young people that it has significant health risks poses a real challenge for prevention programs.

Interviews courtesy of NIH and the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information