The Magic of Metformin: Beyond Diabetes
It all started with a flower. Since the middle ages, the French lilac (Galega officinalis) has been used to treat symptoms of what we now know and fear as Type II Diabetes. Thanks to modern medicine, we’ve been able to formulate a drug synthesized from compounds derived from this very flower that’s been helping us manage diabetes for centuries. This drug is now the most widely used diabetes treatment in the world, metformin.
Over the course of the years, millions of people have taken metformin and the numbers have been showing that the drug not only works well with managing Type II Diabetes, but also offers several other health benefits. Although we still have a long way to go before we fully understand just where metformin can take us, here’s a quick list of what the world’s finest doctors and researchers have found out about this miracle medicine:
1. Metformin is effective in facilitating weight loss… and not just for diabetics.
Because Type II Diabetes can be caused by extra weight, an effective diabetes drug treatment would naturally need to promote weight loss. True enough, metformin has long been proven to aid in decreasing food consumption and to induce weight loss in diabetics (Lee & Morley, 1998). However, in recent research, it’s been found to help obese individuals without diabetes lose some extra pounds (Seifarth, Schehler, & Schneider, 2013).
2. Metformin is a powerful anticancer treatment.
Researchers have been exploring the anticancer potential of metformin in the past two years, discovering that the diabetes drug may reduce the risk of some cancers or prevent their spread. By tamping down the activity of cancer stem cells, metformin lowers the risk of breast and pancreatic cancers (Bao et al, 2014).
Furthermore, a study of more than one million people demonstrated that metformin also lowers the chance of thyroid cancer (Tseng, 2014). Other studies support its effectiveness in combating prostate cancer (Zhang et al, 2014; Tseng, 2014). In the following years, we hope that researchers would continue studying metformin’s impact on other cancers.
3. Metformin is a potential anti-aging drug.
Diabetes has also been known to accelerate aging in diagnosed individuals. As a popular treatment for the condition, metformin was theorized to alleviate this effect indirectly. Although the subject requires further research, preliminary studies have explored the anti-aging benefits of metformin. First tried on rats and mice, the diabetes treatment was found to prolong the lifespan of the rodents by up to 38% (Anisimov, 2010).
4. Metformin plays a part in managing atherosclerosis, the leading cause of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.
Atherosclerosis, the hardening of the blood vessels due to fatty deposits called plaques, is the common cause of heart attacks and strokes. Diabetes, both Type I and II, has been found to accelerate atherosclerosis (Chait & Bornfeldt, 2009), which is why heart disease and stroke account for 65% of deaths among diabetics.
Because metformin is one of the most effective treatments for diabetes, researchers have decided to take a look into its role in reducing risks for heart disease. Initially, the diabetes drug was found to be effective in alleviating atherosclerosis because of its weight loss and antioxidant benefits (Forouzandeh et al, 2014). However, more recent research suggests that metformin can directly lessen plaque formation (Vasamsetti et al, 2015).
5. Metformin helps infertile women conceive, and reduce miscarriage risk.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the most common endocrine disorder among women of reproductive age, causes several reproductive issues such as infertility and increased risk for miscarriage (Sivalingam et al, 2014). Metformin was originally used to manage the gestational diabetes often associated with PCOS, but was eventually found to be effective in restoring normal ovulatory cycles, therefore increasing fertility.
A deeper look into metformin’s effects in women with PCOS showed that the drug treatment also decreases the rate of spontaneous abortions. Researchers have even dubbed the diabetes drug as the “magic bullet” for PCOS, which is diagnosed in 5-10% of women in their childbearing age, because metformin treatment has shown no adverse effects so far: no neonatal deformities, no adverse effects in lactation, and no threatening hormonal imbalances (Zisser, 2007).
Through the centuries, modern medicine has been able to transform the French lilac from a simple medicinal plant to the miracle drug that it is today, helping diabetics and non-diabetics alike. Although there’s still a lot of exploration yet to be done for metformin to discover its full potential, the benefits as they are now are indeed extraordinary for a drug initially intended to simply manage blood sugar.
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Anisimov, V.N. (2010). Metformin for aging and cancer prevention. Aging (Albany NY), 2(11), 760.
Bao, B., Azmi, A. S., Ali, S., Zaiem, F., & Sarkar, F. H. (2014). Metformin may function as anti-cancer agent via targetting cancer stem cells: the potential biological significance of tumor-associated miRNAs in breast and pancreatic cancers. Annals of translational medicine, 2(6).
Chait, A., & Bornfeldt, K. E. (2009). Diabetes and atherosclerosis: is there a role for hyperglycemia?. Journal of lipid research, 50(Supplement), S335-S339.
Forouzandeh, F., Salazar, G., Patrushev, N., Xiong, S., Hilenski, L., Fei, B., & Alexander, R.W. (2014). Metformin beyond diabetes: pleiotropic benefits of metformin in attenuation of atherosclerosis. Journal of the American heart association, 3(6), e001202.
Lee, A., & Morley, J. E. (1998). Metformin decreases food consumption and induces weight loss in subjects with obesity with type II non-insulin-dependent diabetes. Obesity research, 6(1), 47-53.
The People’s Pharmacy (2014, November 3). Is metformin a modern miracle medicine? The People’s Pharmacy. Retrieved November 4, 2015, from http://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2014/11/03/is-metformin-a-modern-miracle-medicine/
Seifarth, C., Schehler, B., & Schneider, H. J. (2013). Effectiveness of metformin on weight loss in non-diabetic individuals with obesity. Experimental and clinical endocrinology & diabetes, 121(1), 27-31.
Sivalingam, V. N., Myers, J., Nicholas, S., Balen, A. H., & Crosbie, E. J. (2014). Metformin in reproductive health, pregnancy and gynaecological cancer: established and emerging indications. Human reproduction update, 20(6), 853-868.
Tseng, C. H. (2014). Metformin reduces thyroid cancer risk in Taiwanese patients with type 2 diabetes.
Tseng, C. H. (2014). Metformin significantly reduces incident prostate cancer risk in Taiwanese men with type 2 diabetes mellitus. European journal of cancer, 50(16), 2831-2837.
Vasamsetti, S. B., Karnewar, S., Kanugula, A. K., Thatipalli, A. R., Kumar, J. M., & Kotamraju, S. (2015). Metformin inhibits monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation via AMPK-medicated inhibition of STAT3 activation: Potential role in atherosclerosis. Diabetes, 64(6), 2028-2041.
Zhang, J., Shen, C., Wang, L., Ma, Q., Xia, P., Qi, M., … & Han, B. (2014). Metformin inhibits epithelial-mesenchymal transition in prostate cancer cells: involvement of the tumor suppressor miR3oa and its target gene SOX4. Biochemical and biophysical research communications, 452(3), 746-752.
Zisser, H. C. (2007). Polycystic ovary syndrome and pregnancy: is metformin the magic bullet?. Diabetes spectrum, 20(2), 85-89.