, Volume 63, Issue 10, pp 933–951

Is There a Role for α-Glucosidase Inhibitors in the Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus?

Current Opinion


Type 2 diabetes mellitus is a major health problem associated with excess morbidity and mortality. As the prevalence of this metabolic disorder is rapidly increasing and current treatment fails to stabilise the disease in most patients, prevention should be considered as a key objective in the near future. People who develop type 2 diabetes pass through a phase of impaired glucose tolerance (IGT). Defects in the action and/or secretion of insulin are the two major abnormalities leading to development of glucose intolerance. Any intervention in the impaired glucose tolerance phase that reduces resistance to insulin or protects the β-cells, or both, should prevent or delay progression to diabetes.

Acarbose, miglitol and voglibose act by competitively inhibiting the α-glucosidases, a group of key intestinal enzymes involved in the digestion of carbohydrates. They decrease both postprandial hyperglycaemia and hyperinsulinaemia, and thereby may improve sensitivity to insulin and release the stress on β-cells. These compounds do not induce hypoglycaemia and have a good safety profile, although gastrointestinal adverse effects may limit long-term compliance to therapy.

The recent placebo-controlled prospective STOP-noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (STOP-NIDDM) trial demonstrated that acarbose 100mg three times daily reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in patients with IGT (relative risk reduction of 25% after a mean follow-up of 3.3 years). The 6-year Early Diabetes Intervention Trial (EDIT), comparing the effect of acarbose 50mg three times daily to that of metformin, showed a trend to a positive effect of acarbose compared with placebo, in a mid-term 3-year analysis, which should be confirmed in the final analysis.

To our knowledge, no such prevention intervention trials have been or are currently being performed with miglitol or voglibose. In conclusion, because of its absence of toxicity and its particular mechanism of action on gastrointestinal tract and indirect consequences on both insulin action and β-cell function, acarbose may be used to prevent type 2 diabetes. If the ongoing EDIT trial confirms the positive results of the recent STOP-NIDDM trial, acarbose could be used, either as an alternative or in addition to changes in lifestyle, to delay development of diabetes in patients with IGT. However, the best dosage of acarbose for this specific indication remains to be specified, especially when all three important parameters, efficacy, tolerance and cost, are taken into consideration.


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© Adis Data Information BV 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Diabetes, Nutrition and Metabolic Disorders, Department of MedicineLiége 1Belgium

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