Is metformin a wonder drug?

Graphic of a medicine bottle with top off showing two pills and halo

Ever surprise why sure medicines are known as “surprise medicine”?

Typically it’s due to the super well being advantages the drug gives for a specific situation, like insulin for sort 1 diabetes or antibiotics for pneumonia. Or, it may be as a result of the drug is nice for a lot of totally different circumstances: aspirin has usually been known as a surprise drug as a result of it could relieve ache, deal with or stop heart problems, and even stop most cancers.

Might metformin be becoming a member of this checklist? It’s permitted within the US to deal with sort 2 diabetes when used with food plan and train by individuals ages 10 and older. However lately, curiosity has grown relating to its potential to stop or deal with quite a lot of different circumstances, together with growing older. Sure, growing older. If that’s true, “surprise drug” may be an understatement.

What’s metformin?

The historical past of metformin goes again a whole lot of years. In Europe, the medicinal herb Galega officinalis was widespread for digestive well being and to deal with urinary issues and different illnesses. Then in 1918, a scientist found that one in all its substances, guanidine, might decrease blood sugar. Medicines containing guanidine, reminiscent of metformin and phenformin, have been developed to deal with diabetes. However they fell out of favor as a result of severe negative effects attributable to phenformin, and by the invention of insulin.

Metformin was rediscovered many years later and permitted as a therapy for diabetes in Europe within the Nineteen Fifties. It wasn’t till 1995 that the FDA permitted it to be used within the US. It has since change into probably the most broadly prescribed remedy for individuals with diabetes who can not management their blood sugar by food plan and train alone.

Metformin’s advantages might lengthen far past diabetes

For many years we’ve recognized that metformin does extra than simply assist decrease blood sugar in individuals with diabetes. It additionally affords them cardiovascular advantages, together with decrease charges of dying as a result of heart problems. And it typically helps individuals with diabetes lose extra weight.

Metformin may have well being advantages for individuals who don’t have diabetes. Medical doctors have lengthy prescribed it off-label — that’s, to deal with circumstances exterior its permitted use, together with:

  • Prediabetes. Folks with prediabetes have elevated blood sugar that isn’t but excessive sufficient to qualify as diabetes. Metformin might delay the onset of diabetes and even stop it amongst individuals with prediabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes. Pregnant ladies might develop elevated blood sugar that returns to regular after supply. Metformin may also help management blood sugar throughout being pregnant in such ladies.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This dysfunction tends to have an effect on younger ladies whose ovaries develop a number of cysts. Menstrual irregularities and fertility issues are frequent. Though the outcomes of medical research are blended, metformin has been prescribed for years for girls with PCOS to assist with menstrual regulation, fertility, and elevated blood sugar.
  • Weight achieve from antipsychotic medicines. Antipsychotics are highly effective medicines prescribed for psychiatric ailments reminiscent of schizophrenia. One frequent aspect impact is important weight achieve. Metformin might reduce weight achieve amongst some individuals taking these medicine.

As well as, researchers are investigating the potential of metformin to

As a result of the overwhelming majority of analysis relating to metformin included solely individuals with diabetes or prediabetes, it’s unclear whether or not these potential advantages are restricted to individuals with these circumstances, or whether or not individuals with out diabetes might derive profit as nicely.

What about negative effects?

The protection profile for metformin is sort of good. Unwanted effects embrace nausea, abdomen upset, or diarrhea; these are typically gentle. Extra severe negative effects are uncommon. They embrace extreme allergic reactions and a situation known as lactic acidosis, a buildup of lactic acid within the bloodstream. The danger for that is larger amongst individuals with vital kidney illness, so docs are likely to keep away from prescribing metformin for them.

The underside line

Metformin is a first-line therapy for sort 2 diabetes, in accordance with present diabetes tips. It’s comparatively cheap and its potential negative effects are nicely understood.

In case you have diabetes and want metformin to assist decrease your blood sugar, its different potential well being advantages are a beautiful — not dangerous — aspect impact. And should you don’t have diabetes? Properly, its position in stopping or treating ailments, and probably even slowing growing older and increasing life expectancy, is way much less clear.

Whereas the analysis thus far is promising, we’d like extra compelling proof earlier than endorsing its widespread use for individuals with out diabetes. However, for medical researchers hoping to repurpose an outdated medication as a brand new surprise drug, metformin would appear like an amazing place to begin.

Comply with me on Twitter @RobShmerling

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