Paula Deen: Recipes (Victoza) for a Healthy Life

by Seema Jolly on January 20, 2012

I told myself that I wasn’t going to do a post about nutrition or food because, well, that’s what I spend all day, everyday thinking about (I study nutrition) and I recognize that most people don’t think about food and nutrition to the extent that I do.  But two days ago, I saw Paula Deen’s face plastered all over the news, read these headlines, “Chef Has Diabetes, and Some Say ‘I Told You So’ ” and “Paula Deen Hawks a Dubious Diabetes Drug,” and I couldn’t resist.

Paula Deen, the Food Network celebrity chef known for her love of butter and high fat recipes, went on the “Today” show on Tuesday to tell America that she has type two diabetes . . . and that she was endorsing the diabetes medication Victoza®, which is manufactured by Novo Nordisk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Type 2 diabetes can be prevented through healthy food choices, physical activity, and weight loss. It can be controlled with these same activities, but insulin or oral medication also may be necessary.”  Paula Deen is in a position to greatly influence the general public, and at this point, her primary focus is on endorsing Victoza®.

So now, the question is this:  What IS this $500 per month drug that has gotten extensive press coverage because of Paula Deen?

Victoza® (common name is liraglutide) was first approved for use in the United States in January 2010.  It helps manage diabetes by mimicking a hormone, glucagon like peptide 1 (GLP1), to release insulin from pancreas cells in the body.  Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose (sugar) leave the blood and enter cells, which then lowers your blood sugar.  Victoza® needs to be injected into the skin but only has to be taken once per day, with or without food.

A meta-analysis of different classes of diabetic drugs was conducted in 2010, which included 7 clinical trials of Victoza®.  All the clinical trials included between 165 and 1,041 patients.  This analysis found that Victoza® did significantly lower blood sugar in patients compared to a placebo, demonstrating the drug’s effectiveness for diabetes management.  However, the longest study conducted was 26 weeks, so we still don’t know the potential effects from long-term usage.

While clinical trials have proven the effectiveness of this drug to lower blood sugar, the Victoza® website also provides this warning:

“In animal studies, Victoza® caused thyroid tumors—including thyroid cancer—in some rats and mice. It is not known whether Victoza® causes thyroid tumors or a type of thyroid cancer called medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) in people which may be fatal if not detected and treated early.”

Along with the potential risk for adverse health effects, we shouldn’t forget that this type of diabetes treatment, at $500 (retail value) per month, is only accessible to certain populations who either can afford the medication or have appropriate insurance coverage to make this medication affordable.

Paula Deen, by virtue of her status as a celebrity, has the potential to influence how diabetes is framed in this country.  Other celebrities, such as Katie Couric, who spread awareness for colorectal cancer, and Magic Johnson, through his work with HIV/AIDS awareness, have also demonstrated the power of the “celebrity effect,” but their work has generally been viewed in a positive light.

There are many approaches to dealing with diabetes in this country.  Do we focus on prevention or do we focus on treatment?  Do we focus on lifestyle changes or do we focus on medication?  And what will be the implications from Paula Deen’s “celebrity effect” and endorsement of Victoza® for the management of type two diabetes?  I guess we’ll find out in the coming months . . .

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