Cough Medicine Ingredient May Help Fight Diabetes

Categories: Current Research


There’s an ingredient in some over-the-counter cough medicines that seems to improve the release of insulin in humans. This discovery may lead to many new treatments for type 2 diabetes. Doctors at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany, discovered that a drug called dextromethorphan increased the release of insulin from the pancreas.


Dextromethorphan is one of the active ingredients in many over-the-counter cold and cough medicines. One of the drawbacks is that dextromethorphan has few serious side effects. It has some more serious side effects when compared to the current drugs used to treat people with type 2 diabetes. In it’s conventional medicine use, dextromethorphan works to get rid a cough by suppressing the activity of certain receptors in the brain, called NMDA receptors. NMDA receptors are responsible for generation of rhythms for breathing and locomotion, and the processes underlying learning, memory, and neuroplasticity. Coincidentally, NMDA receptors also are found in the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The new findings show that suppressing the NMDA receptors in the pancreas enhances insulin secretion.

The Experiment

The researchers of this new study said that they stumbled upon the effects that dextromethorphan had on treating diabetes by mistake. The effects were found in a series of studies conducted first in mice, then in human pancreatic tissue samples. Once that was out of the way, it was tested on a small sample of actual people with diabetes. “To date, we only have results from a single-dose clinical trial, which make us optimistic; but [this is] not sufficient to evaluate the clinical benefit of this drug for the long-term treatment of people with diabetes […] My hope is that our study triggers further clinical trials at established diabetes centers,” said senior author Eckhard Lammert, a professor of animal physiology at the Heinrich Heine University. If it is found out that dextromethorphan does not work to affect type 2 diabetes, researchers could possibly test other drugs that inhibit NMDA-receptors, to see their effect on controlling diabetes, the researchers said.

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