Metformin is the most widely prescribed drug for type 2 diabetes. It has proven to be very effective in most people for managing blood glucose levels.
Other than diabetes, there are many other metformin uses that are not necessarily FDA approved but for which the drug is frequently prescribed.
Metformin lowers glucose production and improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin without causing hypoglycemia. Although it was common in Europe for years, Metformin wasn’t available in the U.S. until 1995. In 2002 it was introduced in the U.S. as a generic, bringing the cost way down.
The drug was actually first used in the middle ages when it was discovered as an extract of French lilac. In the 1800s, the active ingredient guanidine was isolated and made into metformin. It was named glucophage, meaning “glucose eater.”
In 1957 the drug was approved in France, and in 1958 it was approved in the U.K. It took 37 more years before it would be approved in the U.S. because of its association with the related drug phenformin, which was found to be poisonous and to cause lactic acidosis.
Besides type 2 diabetes, there are many other metformin benefits for non-diabetics.
Metformin has been known to help with weight loss in those who are obese. It can also be helpful in counteracting weight gain caused by antipsychotics or other medications. With weight loss, metformin seems to work very well in some people and not in others. Researchers are looking into why this might be.
For women with polycystic ovary syndrome, metformin can help regulate periods, reduce excess insulin in the body, and reduce BMI and testosterone levels. It can also be successfully used in treating infertility related to PCOS.
Trials have shown metformin’s efficacy in reducing the effects of aging, such as decreasing age-related illnesses, problems with cognitive function, and morbidity. New trials are planned to look further into these findings.
New studies have shown that metformin is effective in killing cancer cells. In trials, people undergoing chemotherapy alone saw their cancer return, while for those on chemo and metformin, their tumors disappeared. Other research has shown that those who take metformin are less likely to develop certain cancers.
Especially for those who are older than 60 and have prediabetes, taking metformin can help in regulating blood sugar and preventing or delaying diabetes.
Diabetes and heart health are closely linked. Diabetes can lead to heart disease and heart failure if not properly treated. Metformin has been shown to lead to better heart health in those with diabetes by lowering BMI, waist circumference, and blood insulin levels. Metformin was also shown to decrease irregular heartbeats and lower oxidative stress.
Type 1 diabetes
While not approved for type 1, many doctors prescribe metformin for type 1 if the person is overweight. It can be beneficial by reducing glucose production in the liver as well as improving insulin sensitivity.
Not everyone will respond to metformin in the same way, and it does have certain side effects. Metformin should always be used alongside lifestyle changes and any other treatments your doctor recommends. Talk to your doctor before starting metformin, and see how it affects your body before committing to the treatment.