Metformin – The World’s First True Anti-Aging Drug
Metformin is truly an amazing drug. It has potentially far-reaching effects on everything from diabetes, obesity, cancer, and heart disease to general life extension.
Metformin, Insulin Sensitivity, and Fat Loss
Next to aspirin, metformin, originally known as glucophage (“sugar eater”), is one of the oldest drugs in use. It was invented in 1959 and used freely in other countries, but the ever-cautious FDA didn’t approve it for use in the U.S. until 1995.
The drug is currently used by type II diabetics the world over to help them handle dietary sugar or, more broadly, carbohydrates. However, when people who don’t have diabetes take metformin, it generally leads to fat loss because it also allows the non-diabetic person to handle carbs better.
Bodybuilders have long been fans of the drug because it makes muscle cells more sensitive to insulin so that more nutrients can be shuttled towards muscle cells. While it’s doing its magic on muscle cells, metformin simultaneously de-sensitizes fat cells to insulin’s effect so fat cells can’t store nutrients as easily. As such, muscles get bigger and fat stores get smaller.
Metformin and Cancer
It seems that just about every chemical either causes cancer or helps prevent it, but a recent report involving metformin’s effects on cancer are truly noteworthy. In one of the largest studies of its kind, a group of scientists pored over the 10-year case histories of 8,000 type II diabetics who’d been using metformin.(1) They found that metformin users had an incredible 54% lower incidence of all cancers compared to the general population.
Not only did the drug exhibit a preventative effect, but the metformin users who developed cancer had a much higher survival rate, including those with malignant tumors of the lung, colon, and breast. The earlier they started using metformin, the better they continued to fight off cancer.
The effect was so profound that the results, along with the drug’s glucose-control properties, prompted the influential Life Extension Foundation (LEF) to recommend that its members – diabetic or not — take it every day.
So why would a blood-sugar lowering drug protect against cancer? One reason is that it reduces obesity, which is a risk factor for more than a dozen cancers. (Generally, there’s a 59% increase in the incidence of cancer for every 5-unit increase in body mass index, or BMI.)
Secondly, as mentioned earlier, metformin increases the production of a chemical that regulates cell growth and replication. It can literally tell cells to stop drawing energy. Once this chemical is activated, cancer cells end up starving themselves because the energy lifeline’s been cut.
Metformin and Heart Disease
High blood sugar can contribute to the amount of fatty materials deposited in your blood vessels. Over time, these deposits impede blood flow, which increases the chance of circulatory problems and heart disease. Metformin prevents this from happening by keeping levels of blood sugar low.
Potential Side Effects of Metformin
Users of metformin and similar drugs have historically been wary of a rare but significant side effect of the drug called lactic acidosis.
However, the reported frequency of this side effect is 0.06 in 1,000 patient-years (which is incredibly low), and almost always occurs in patients with predisposing conditions or factors such as renal, liver, or cardiac disease, alcoholism, the use of very high metformin dosages (more than 1.7 grams a day), or not withdrawing from metformin prior to surgery.
Metformin for Promoting Health
Keep in mind that many conventional physicians don’t prescribe metformin for most of the health-promoting and/or life extending purposes described in this article. They’re either unaware of its new uses or reluctant to prescribe drugs for any reason than to treat a diagnosed disease.
However, progressive physicians who not only treat disease but promote health, are very much excited about metformin’s “off label” uses.
- Libby G, Donnelly LA, Donnan PT, Alessi DR, Morris AD, Evans JM. New users of metformin are at low risk of incident cancer: a cohort study among people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2009 Sep;32(9):1620-5.