Self-knowledge, lost pounds, and the side effects of Byetta.
By Ilene Raymond Rush
April 2009 — What would you do to lower your blood sugars and lose weight?
It's a question I've asked myself many times, particularly since February 4th, when my endocrinologist recommended that I try Byetta, a synthetic hormone based on the toxic saliva of the Gila Monster. The drug lowers blood sugars, slows digestion, and boosts the sensation of satiety after meals. My endocrinologist also mentioned the unfortunate side effects of Byetta, and it was up to me to make the choice.
As a post-menopausal middle-aged woman I had pretty much given up on the weight loss game. Never obese, I kept myself in okay shape through daily workouts and low-carb eating. Still, I wasn't thrilled with my appearance in a three-way mirror and my internist often suggested that ten percent off might help my bottom line (and, not incidentally, my bottom).
Yet despite sporadic efforts to reduce, the best I managed was to drop a pound or two, only to pick them back up the second I flirted with a Hershey kiss.
More important than weight was my increasing struggle with erratic blood sugar readings. Since I turned the big Five-Oh a cup of blueberries, a dab of yogurt, or a half slice of toast – all ‘good' foods – sailed my sugars into the stratosphere.
Willpower, discipline and fear kept my A1C readings at a stellar 6.1, but eating had lost its zest. The highlight of my nearly zero-carb regimen tended towards the "Egg of the Day." Even the occasional rib eye steak struck my jaded taste buds as just another piece of meat.
What I longed for, more than even losing those damned pounds, was simple variety.
My endo, who has the patience of a good doctor, listened to me. He assured me that I wasn't doing anything wrong: As people with type 2 diabetes age, the pancreas continues to squeeze out insulin, but there is less available to emit. Hence the high blood sugar readings from a bite of muffin or a handful of popcorn.
But, he continued, by combining Byetta with metaformin, I might be able to break the cycle. Oh, and there was one more thing.
"You might lose some weight."
My ears perked up.
"A few side effects," he said. "You have to take it by injection twice a day. It can cause nausea, headaches, and general gastrointestinal distress." He looked up from his notes.
"How much weight?" I asked.
"Oh, five to ten pounds. It doesn't work for everyone," he warned. "But if you want to try…"
I grabbed the prescription from his fingers and whizzed out the door.
That was two months, thirteen pounds, and several bouts of the worst nausea, intense migraines and gastrointestinal poundings you can imagine. And then multiply by three.
But, the good news: on Byetta, if I want a bowl of beef barley soup, I eat a quarter or half of a bowl. I can have a few wheat crackers and not worry that I'm headed for a reading of 300. And I can slide into jeans that I last wore seven years ago with room to spare.
I've investigated other people's experiences with the side effects of Byetta online. What my doctor said seems to be true: There are those who have never experienced a single bout of nausea, and others who have never worked up to the full dose, afflicted with side effects of Byetta.
Yet, as a reasonably intelligent woman, I have asked myself more than once: Why would anyone do this to themselves? And I've concluded that the answer boils down to a single question: "What will you do to improve your sugars and lose weight?"
For now, for better or worse, I know my answer. If my A1C this May is better or as good as it was on the carb free diet, then it will have been worth it. If not, Byetta has taught me something that I didn't know – not only about blood sugars or weight, but about me.
dLife's Viewpoints columnists are not all medical experts, but everyday people living with diabetes and sharing their personal experiences, most often at a set point in time. While their method of diabetes management may work for them, everyone is different. Please consult with your diabetes care team before acting on anything you read here to find out what will work best for you.
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