Many years ago when I was living in Southern California I was diagnosed with diabetes. Big surprise to me as I had no apparent symptoms. The doctor said no big deal, it’s early and you can get by with metformin. That was at least 20 years ago.
So I started taking metformin regularly and continued on my ways. When I moved to Carson City I continued taking metformin until Dr. Yamamoto checked me and said it was time to change to direct insulin shots, which I practice today. No big problem, just check blood sugar before and shoot the insulin. So metformin for me is a thing of the past, but I’m sure many diabetic sufferers are taking it.
So I’ve got good news for you — the Mayo Clinic Newsletter of April 2017 comes up with some potential benefits “for an old drug.” It does a good job of keeping blood sugar in check, has few side effects and costs are low. But there are additional benefits as well.
In many studies, Mayo reports, metformin not only works well on diabetes but also “against cardiovascular, obesity, cancer and aging.” Studies are in early stages but the hope is that it may have long-reaching benefits. This from something I took for years unknowing.
Metformin belongs to a class of drugs called biguanides (bi-Gwahnides). Between dinners, the liver normally releases stored glucose into the blood. Sometimes, in those with type 2 diabetes, too much glucose is released. Metformin activates monophosphate kinase (AMPK), an enzyme known as 5’-adenosine monophosphate. This reduces the amount of glucose the liver releases, lowering blood sugar. AMPK activation also increases the activity of insulin receptors so the body uses insulin more effectively.
Most common side effects of metformin are gastrointestinal such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which go away over time but sometimes are enough to make a switch in drugs.
As well as being effective in treating type 2 diabetes, metformin seems to help the cardiovascular system improve blood cholesterol levels, including reduction of triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein LLD, or “bad” cholesterol. Some studies of people with diabetes ad metabolic syndrome showed a decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
Some studies show metformin having a positive effect on the lining of blood vessels and heart muscle cells, improving blood flow and in some cases, reducing heart attack damage. Other studies have shown metformin reduces complications and death in people with diabetes and heart problems compared with those not taking metformin.
Metformin is often prescribed for diabetics who are overweight because it doesn’t promote weight gain and can promote weight loss. People with obesity often develop insulin resistance. It may be that metformin lessons hunger and helps normalize blood sugar levels.
Some observational studies back the use of metformin as a potential anti-cancer drug. One theory is that by reducing blood insulin levels metformin may have had a protective effect against cancers, such as colon and breast cancers.
A number of animal studies have shown that metformin in a number of ways my extend the life of time organs may remain healthy — including in decreased insulin levels, AMPK activation, anti-inflammatory action, reduced DNA damage.
Scientists hope that similar results may be obtained with humans, modifying aging. If metformin can delay the amount of time spent on coping with illness or disease it can extend healthy, active aging. Human trials are already underway.
So metformin may wind up being the “wonder” drug pharmaceutical companies have long sought. I just checked my medicine cabinet and found an old bottle of metformin. Can’t go back to it after years of insulin injections, but it’s a nice souvenir of the past.
Sam Bauman writes about senior affairs, among other things, for the Nevada Appeal.