Lifestyle changes such as eating a diabetes-friendly diet, exercising more, and maintaining a healthy body weight combined with existing treatment options are the best way to prevent or manage type 2 diabetes.
However, for people with type 2 diabetes who have trouble controlling their blood sugar by making healthier lifestyle choices or taking medications, experimental treatments could help.
This article provides an overview of type 2 diabetes experimental treatments and explains how the latest type 2 diabetes research has led to new Food and Drug Administration (FDA)–approved pharmacological treatments and devices like the “artificial pancreas.”
Read on to learn more about other experimental treatments for type 2 diabetes that show promise but haven’t been approved by the FDA yet.
Only about half of all U.S. adults with type 2 diabetes achieve good blood sugar level targets based on the A1c test, a simple blood test measuring blood sugar levels averaged over the past three months.
Fortunately, advances in type 2 diabetes research have led to some groundbreaking experimental treatments and drug combinations that show promise in preliminary studies.
The latest pharmacological treatment approved by the FDA for type 2 diabetes combines glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptides (GIP). In May 2022, the FDA approved the novel type 2 diabetes injectable medication called Mounjaro (tirzepatide). Mounjaro is the first and only FDA-approved dual GIP and GLP-1 agonist medication for type 2 diabetes.
Sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibitors, also known as a glifozins, are another state-of-the-art class of drugs approved by the FDA to lower blood sugar in adults with type 2 diabetes. SGLT2 inhibitors are prescribed along with lifestyle changes like diet and exercise. Glifozins are not FDA-approved for patients with type 1 diabetes.
Accumulating evidence suggests that SGLT2 inhibitors have other health benefits such as promoting weight loss and improving cardiac functions. A meta-analysis (a formal assessment of previous research) of 10 clinical trials found that the use of SGLT2 inhibitors was associated with a 33% lower risk of life-threatening cardiovascular disease.
In June 2021, the FDA approved Wegovy, a weight-loss prescription drug, for people diagnosed with obesity and a weight-related condition such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. In September 2022, researchers announced that weekly injections of this drug may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes risk by 61%.
Tesaglitazar is an experimental drug that showed promise as a treatment for type 2 diabetes in early studies. However, its development was put on hold by AstraZeneca in May 2006 before all of the phase 3 trials were completed. But this experimental treatment might be making a comeback.
In August 2022, a study in mice showed that combining tesaglitazar with GLP-1 agonists reduced the drug’s adverse effects while increasing its positive effects on sugar metabolism. Still, human studies are needed.
Special Dietary and Nutritional Treatments
Eating a diet to help type 2 diabetes is one of the most effective ways for people with type 2 diabetes to control blood sugar. If you have diabetes, it’s important to educate yourself about different types of carbohydrates and to monitor your blood sugar levels using a glucometer.
Research on supplements for type 2 diabetes has had mixed results. After years of research, a study of 2,423 people concluded that vitamin D supplements don’t prevent type 2 diabetes and may not have long-term benefits. That said, a 2019 meta-analysis of other peer-reviewed studies concluded that vitamin D supplements may help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar levels in the short term.
Over-the-counter (OTC) nutritional supplements that lower blood sugar can carry potential risks and are not intended to replace diabetes medications. Always use common sense and speak with a healthcare provider before making dietary changes or using nutritional supplements.
The “artificial pancreas” is a portable external device that controls blood glucose levels using a closed-loop insulin pump system. A 2021 study found that closed-loop artificial pancreas therapy helped people with type 2 diabetes safely manage their blood sugar levels and reduced the risk of severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) events.
Bariatric Surgery for Type 2 Diabetes
Bariatric weight-loss surgery is an effective treatment for many people with type 2 diabetes. Among bariatric procedures, a 2019 randomized trial found that gastric bypass surgery (creating and attaching a small pouch directly to the small intestine, bypassing the stomach) is superior to gastric sleeve surgery (removing a portion of the stomach) for remission of type 2 diabetes.
Although a pancreas transplant can benefit people with type 1 diabetes by restoring insulin production and improving blood sugar control, it’s an extreme measure and isn’t typically a treatment option for those with type 2 diabetes.
However, in certain patients with type 2 diabetes who have both a low production of insulin (hormone created by your pancreas that controls the sugar in your bloodstream) and insulin resistance (when cells stop responding to the insulin you make), a pancreas transplant may be considered.
However, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) eligibility criteria strictly limit access to pancreas transplantation in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Islet Transplant Surgery for Diabetics
Islet cell transplantation is a treatment option for some patients with type 1 diabetes but isn’t currently an FDA-approved option for those with type 2 diabetes.
Diabetes research has led to some groundbreaking new treatment options. In May 2022, the FDA approved a potentially game-changing new drug called Mounjaro (tirzepatide) that targets both GLP-1 and GIP. In September 2022, researchers announced that another experimental drug, tesaglitazar, which didn’t initially succeed in clinical trials, shows renewed promise when combined with a GLP-1 antagonist.
Other new treatments, like SGLT2 inhibitors, are effective for type 2 diabetes when combined with lifestyle changes related to diet and exercise. For people who have trouble losing weight, bariatric surgery and weight-loss drugs like Wegovy (semaglutide) can help people maintain a healthy weight and lower their risk of type 2 diabetes.
A Word From Verywell
Despite pharmacological advances in the treatment of type 2 diabetes and the proven benefits of procedures like bariatric surgery and devices like the artificial pancreas, making healthy lifestyle choices remains the best—and least risky—way to prevent and lower your chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
Experimental treatments for type 2 diabetes carry risks. Always speak to a healthcare provider before making changes to your diet or taking nutritional supplements. When it comes to media buzz and marketing claims about the “latest and greatest” way to treat or prevent type 2 diabetes, practice healthy skepticism and proceed with caution.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a cure for type 2 diabetes?
No. There is no cure for type 2 diabetes. Losing weight, eating healthier, and exercising more can help to prevent and manage this type 2 diabetes. If diet, exercise, and weight loss fail to control blood sugar, antidiabetic medications or insulin therapy can help achieve glycemic targets.
What can a person with diabetes take instead of metformin?
If you have diabetes and want to take something other than metformin, speak to a healthcare provider about your options. Some alternatives to metformin that people with type 2 diabetes can use to control high blood sugar include, Farxiga (dapagliflozin), Invokana (canagliflozin), Jardiance (empagliflozin), and Nesina (alogliptin).
Are there vitamins that help with diabetes?
There’s little to no evidence-based research showing that specific vitamins are helpful to people with diabetes in the long term. Vitamin D may help people with diabetes in the short term, but a yearslong National Institutes of Health–funded trial ultimately found that vitamin D supplements do not prevent type 2 diabetes.