Metformin - Fountain of Youth?
Many of you will be intimately familiar with metformin because it’s often the very first choice among the many oral medications options prescribed for type 2 diabetes. Chances are that you have been, or still are, taking metformin or a combination of medications that include this effective compound. Metformin is in a class of diabetes medications called “biguanides” and may be called by its brand names Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Fortamet, Glumetza, and Riomet. Metformin works to control blood glucose by stimulating muscle cells to take in glucose, and by reducing the release of stored glucose from liver cells. It is a very effective treatment for type 2 diabetes.
What are other health benefits of metformin?
But metformin is getting attention for potentially having “bonus” health benefits – reduced risk for cardiovascular (heart) diseases, reduced risk for some cancers (even for cancer treatment as a tumor suppressor), improving fertility, and others. Some scientists now believe that the connection between these somewhat unrelated health benefits attributed to metformin is in its effect to slow aging on a biological/cellular level. That is, metformin may simply reduce the risk for and progression of age-related diseases, including type 2 diabetes.
Endocrine today (volume 17, number 9 Sept. 2019) does a thorough review of this issue, and the potential is remarkable. A small study in Singapore, for instance, showed a significant decrease in cognitive impairment (dementia) in adults older than 55 who were taking metformin, with the greatest benefit among those taking metformin long-term (longer than 6 years). A study from the United Kingdom showed decreased all-cause mortality (death from any cause) among almost 80,000 people with type 2 diabetes taking metformin when compared to a control group without diabetes.
More research needed about the health benefits of metformin
In research talk, the evidence is impressive but thin. However, large-scale human trials are in progress, or gearing up to begin (the TAME trial- Targeting Aging with Metformin), in order to take a more thorough look at the potential benefits of metformin and how this drug might fight age-related chronic conditions. The possibility is that metformin may help postpone various conditions related to inflammation and oxidative stress at the cellular level – nobody is suggesting we can live for 500 years.
For now, this is a “wait and see” question, and it’s not likely to be a short wait – clinical trials can go for decades before firm conclusions become obvious. But, since metformin is already a standard treatment for type 2 diabetes, those already taking this drug for that purpose could be experiencing extra benefits. Don’t forget though – lifestyle choices are always going to be a key element of better health.
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