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On the potential of acarbose to reduce cardiovascular disease

Eberhard Standl1*, Michael J Theodorakis2, Michael Erbach3, Oliver Schnell3 and Jaakko Tuomilehto4567

Author Affiliations

1 Munich Diabetes Research Group e.V. at Helmholtz Centre, Ingolstaedter Landstrasse 1, 85764 Munich, Neuherberg, Germany

2 Diabetes Trials Unit, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

3 Munich Diabetes Research Group e.V. at Helmholtz Centre, Munich, Neuherberg, Germany

4 Centre for Vascular Prevention, Danube-University Krems, Krems, Austria

5 Diabetes Prevention Unit, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland

6 Instituto de Investigacion Sanitaria del Hospital Universario LaPaz (IdiPAZ), Madrid, Spain

7 Diabetes Research Group, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

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Cardiovascular Diabetology 2014, 13:81  doi:10.1186/1475-2840-13-81

Published: 16 April 2014


In the emerging landscape of cardiovascular (CV) outcome trials evaluating the effects of blood glucose lowering drugs in individuals with type 2 diabetes, it is becoming increasingly apparent that since the promising signals coming from the United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) no unequivocal benefits have been established for any single therapy thus far. There is an unmet need for introducing an effective pharmacological agent which could target both correlates of glycaemic regulation and CV risk factors, to ameliorate the enormous burden of fatal and non-fatal CV events in diabetic patients. Acarbose, like other alpha-glucosidase inhibitors (AGIs), has been proven to be an effective antidiabetic treatment for decades, but the overall significant impact of this class of drugs on modulating CV risk has only recently been appreciated. Accumulating evidence has shown that apart from its multiple effects on primarily postprandial glucose dysmetabolism, a key component of mechanisms linked to increased incidence of CV events, acarbose therapy also associates with a favorable impact on an array of surrogate markers of CV disease. Data stemming from in vitro testing of human cell lines as well as from preliminary trials in diabetic populations, like the Study to Prevent Non-Insulin-Dependent Diabetes Mellitus (STOP-NIDDM) trial, have highlighted – though not undisputed – the potential beneficial effects of the drug on CV morbidity. Large scale trials, like the ongoing Acarbose Cardiovascular Evaluation (ACE) trial, aim at conclusively establishing such a positive effect in patients with coronary heart disease and impaired glucose tolerance. In view of its usually acceptable level of side effects that are, if they occur, mostly limited to transient gastrointestinal symptoms, acarbose could well be a strong future player in CV disease secondary prevention. Current discouraging results from many trials of antidiabetic medications to significantly lower CV event rates in diabetic patients, should only draw further attention on alternative glucose lowering agents, among which acarbose is indeed promising.

Acarbose; Cardiovascular; Prevention; Diabetes; Hyperglycaemia; Postprandial