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Metformin (brand name Glucophage) is the most commonly prescribed drug in the world for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Because metformin effectively lowers both blood glucose and blood insulin levels, it also reduces the risk to many other chronic degenerative diseases. Consequently, in addition to its use in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, metformin is now becoming recognized as a therapy to slow down aging.
In 2016 the FDA made an unprecedented announcement when it approved a study to examine the effect of metformin on the biology of aging in humans. This study is titled Targeting Aging with Metformin, or the TAME study. This is the first time in history that the FDA has approved any human clinical trial with a goal of establishing a drug’s ability to protect against multiple diseases of aging. In previous studies with different species of animals, therapy with metformin has resulted in significant increases in lifespan., Many healthy people are now electing to take metformin for its ability to slow down aging processes and increase longevity. I want to explain how metformin works so you will understand why it produces so many additional health benefits beyond treating type 2 diabetes.
Metformin works by inhibiting the synthesis of glucose in the liver. This enables the pancreas to reduce the production of insulin which results in lower levels of blood glucose and insulin. This also results in an increase in insulin sensitivity, which means the cells’ insulin receptors function better. Metformin also decreases appetite and food consumption, induces weight and fat loss and decreases triglycerides and LDL-cholesterol levels. Later in this article I will also discuss the new understanding of how metformin also provides significant anti-cancer benefits.
Sugar in the body can combine with proteins rendering them nonfunctional. This process is called glycosylation and it is one of the primary causes of aging. Because metformin lowers blood glucose levels, it reduces glycosylation, which means you are slowing down the destruction of proteins throughout the body; you are slowing down your aging process.
People with type 2 diabetes have insulin resistance, which means the insulin receptors are less sensitive to blood sugar, or glucose. Consequently, the pancreas must produce more insulin in an effort to normalize blood glucose levels. This results in a condition known as hyperinsulinemia, or excess insulin.
Excess insulin is extremely damaging and is one of the main causes of accelerated aging. Excess insulin causes damage to virtually all organ systems in the body, especially blood vessels, the kidneys, eyes and nerves. Also, elevated insulin levels increase risks to obesity, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, chronic inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease. By lowering insulin levels, metformin reduces risks to all these diseases.
Metformin’s Exciting Anti-Cancer Benefits: Introduction. In 2009, the results of a large metformin trial were published. In this 10-year trial, it was discovered that diabetic patients taking metformin had a 54% lower risk of developing any type of cancer compared to diabetic patients who had not taken metformin. And, for people with cancer, metformin users had a much greater length of survival.
Metformin’s Anti-Cancer Benefits: Part 1-Starving Cancer Cells.Normal cells utilize oxygen for energy. However cancer cells have a deranged metabolic process which requires them to utilize glucose for energy. Since metformin lowers blood glucose/sugar levels, it helps to starve cancer cells by limiting their ability to access enough fuel, or glucose, to sustain their rapid growth.
Metformin’s Anti-Cancer Benefits: Part 2-Targeting Cancer Stem Cells (CSCs): Cancer stem cells (also called cancer-initiating cells) represent a tremendous breakthrough in our understanding of cancer. It is estimated that a tumor mass consists of 99% tumor cells and 1% cancer stem cells. Tumor cells are relatively benign; they cannot metastasize. It is the CSCs that are really dangerous because they can migrate (metastasize) and initiate new tumor growth. Chemotherapy targets the benign tumor cells but does not kill CSCs. Chemo may cause an 80% shrinkage in the size of a tumor, but this is relatively inconsequential because it is not effecting the CSCs. Chemotherapy actually activates CSCs, causing them to metastasize, and it is metastasis that is responsible for most cancer deaths. Exciting news regarding cancer is that metformin selectively targets cancer stem cells and acts to block tumor growth and prolong remission.
Metformin-Induced Nutrient Depletions: Metformin is a relatively safe drug that offers significant benefits. However, in my book The Drug-Induced Nutrient Depletion Handbook (Lexi-Comp, 2001) I list studies which report that metformin can cause a depletion of several nutrients which include: vitamin B1, vitamin B12, folic acid and coenzyme Q10. Consequently, I encourage people taking metformin to also take a daily nutritional supplement that has doses of vitamins B1, B12 and folate that are higher than the RDA levels, which I feel are ridiculously low to begin with. I also advise taking 100 mg or more of coenzyme Q10 daily. CoQ10 is a fat-soluble nutrient. Taking CoQ10 at the largest meal of the day will likely enhance CoQ10 absorption.
Most of you who know me as The Natural Pharmacist know that I favor the use of natural therapies whenever possible. However, I’m making an exception with metformin. Metformin has an excellent safety record and now we realize that it also provides important wide-ranging health benefits. I got my physician to write me a prescription and I now take 500 mg of metformin twice daily.