Malaria Drug May Cut Diabetes Risk

The malaria drug hydroxychloroquine may help rheumatoid
arthritis patients avoid diabetes.

That news appears in this week's edition of The Journal of the American
Medical Association
.

The study only included rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients, but the
researchers speculate the hydroxychloroquine might also help prevent type 2
diabetes in people without rheumatoid arthritis.

It will take more work to figure out if hydroxychloroquine -- which is sold
generically and by the brand names Plaquenil and Quineprox -- truly guards
against diabetes, write the researchers.

They included Mary Chester Wasko, MD, MSc, of the University of Pittsburgh's
division of rheumatology and clinical immunology.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Study

Wasko and colleagues studied some 4,900 rheumatoid arthritis adult patients. None of the
patients had been diagnosed with diabetes when the study started.

The study lasted 21 years. During that time, the patients noted their
rheumatoid arthritis medications, including hydroxychloroquine.

Why would rheumatoid arthritis patients take a malaria drug?
Hydroxychloroquine is taken to ease RA-related pain and inflammation. Other,
newer RA drugs are also available.

In Wasko's study, about 1,800 patients had ever taken
hydroxychloroquine.

Over the years, 54 patients who had ever taken hydroxychloroquine reported
being newly diagnosed with diabetes, compared with 171 who had never taken
hydroxychloroquine.

B

Less Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis?

After considering various diabetes risk factors, the researchers found that
patients who ever took hydroxychloroquine were 38% less likely to report a new
diabetes diagnosis than those who never took hydroxychloroquine.

Patients who took hydroxychloroquine for more than four years were 77% less
likely to report a new diabetes diagnosis than those who never took the
antimalarial drug.

The study was purely observational. That is, the researchers didn't ask any
of the patients to take hydroxychloroquine. So the results don't prove that the
antimalarial drug warded off diabetes.

However, Wasko's team notes that previous studies suggest that
hydroxychloroquine may help the body make and respond properly to insulin, the
hormone that controls blood sugar.

The study doesn't show exactly what type of diabetes the patients developed.
But most cases were probably type 2 diabetes, since that's the most common type
of diabetes in adults, note the researchers.

Hydroxychloroquine is inexpensive and safe, so further studies should be
done to see if the drug will lower diabetes risk in RA patients and the general
population, note Wasko and colleagues.

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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