A Cheap Drug, Metformin, May Slow Down Aging

A Cheap Drug, Metformin, May Slow Down Aging

Older adults are more likely to suffer from cancer, dementia, heart disease, and other chronic diseases. Scientists, however, believe that a “wonder drug,” called Metformin, can prevent these chronic conditions and help older adults live longer.

Metformin already exists as a low-cost medication that millions of people take to control type 2 diabetes. However, doctors prescribe Metformin for managing conditions other than diabetes.

Michael Cantor and his wife, Shari Cantor, both of whom are in their mid-60s and take Metformin, say they feel healthy and have a lot of energy because of the medication. They also noticed improvements in their digestive system.

“I tell all my friends about it,” Michael Cantor told NPR. “We all want to live a little longer, high-quality life if we can.”

Cantor said he started taking Metformin about ten years ago when his weight and blood sugar were increasing. Shari Cantor, the mayor of West Hartford, Connecticut, said she started taking Metformin during the COVID-19 pandemic after she read that it may help protect against serious infections.

So far, studies focusing on the link between Metformin and delayed aging have only been done with animals, while the health benefits it gives humans have only been observational. Now, the American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR) is spearheading fundraising efforts to conduct clinical trials to get proof that aging can be treated just as diseases are treated.

“I don’t know if metformin increases lifespan in people, but the evidence that exists suggests that it very well might,” Steven Austad, a senior scientific advisor at AFAR who studies the biology of aging, told NPR.

The Targeting Aging with Metformin (TAME) trial, based at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, aims to test whether Metformin can slow down the development or progression of age-related chronic diseases.

Once the funding comes in, the goal is to carry out the six-year TAME clinical trials at 14 research institutions across the United States. The study would involve over 3,000 older adults between the ages of 65-79.

Investigators want to look into as many aspects of Metformin as possible, including whether the medication can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, which may slow biological aging. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an excess of free radicals in the body’s cells, and there are not enough antioxidants to get rid of them. An excess of oxidative stress will damage cells, and aging occurs due to the accumulation of the damage, according to Steve Kritchevsky, a professor of gerontology at Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Researchers also want to find out if the benefits documented in people with diabetes will also lower the risk of age-related diseases in healthy, older adults.

“That’s what we need to figure out,” Kritchevsky told NPR.

Michael Cantor said his father had his first heart attack when he was 51 years old, which is why he wants to do all that he can to prevent disease and live a healthy life.

“Maybe it doesn’t do what we think it does in terms of longevity, but it’s certainly not going to do me any harm,” Cantor told NPR.

Metformin Is Not Only Effective But Inexpensive

While medical professionals tout the health benefits of Metformin, patients benefit from the drug’s low cost. Generic Metformin is covered by Medicare and most insurance plans, which means that many people can avoid paying out-of-pocket costs for the drug.

The retail price for generic Metformin is typically between $10 and $30 for 60 tablets with a 500 mg dosage, according to Good RX Health. However, the liquid form costs more. Good RX Health reports that the retail price ranges from $350 to $430 for a 300 ml quantity of generic Metformin with a 500 mg/5 ml dosage.

Metformin Treats More Than Diabetes

Wonder drugs, like Metformin, are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat a certain condition but are also prescribed “off-label,” which means doctors prescribe them for different diseases or conditions that they were not approved to treat.

In an article for Harvard Health Publishing, Dr. Robert H. Shmerling, a faculty member at Harvard Medical School and the senior faculty editor at Harvard Health Publishing, wrote that doctors prescribe Metformin off-label to treat:

  • Prediabetes. Metformin may delay the onset of diabetes or even prevent it in people who have elevated blood sugar that is not yet high enough to qualify as diabetes.
  • Gestational diabetes. Metformin can help control blood sugar in pregnant women who may develop elevated blood sugar that returns to normal after delivery.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Metformin has been prescribed for women with PCOS, a disorder that affects young women whose ovaries develop multiple cysts. Although clinical study results are mixed on its effectiveness, Metformin has long been prescribed to help with menstrual regulation, fertility, and elevated blood sugar.
  • Weight gain from antipsychotic medicines. Metformin may reduce weight gain, a side effect of antipsychotic medicines.

Additionally, investigators are looking into whether Metformin can lower the risk of breast, colon, prostate, and other cancers in people with type 2 diabetes, as well as lower the risks for dementia and stroke.

Metformin was not considered a wonder drug when it was first discovered. Hundreds of years ago, Metformin was known as “goat’s rue,” and was linked to “Galega officinalis,” a popular medicinal herb used in Europe for digestive health and treating urinary problems. In 1918, a scientist discovered that guanidine, one of Metformin’s ingredients, could lower blood sugar. In the 1950s, France began using Metformin to treat diabetes. It wasn’t until 1995 that the FDA approved Metformin to treat diabetes.

Metformin comes in tablet or liquid form and in immediate-release (IR) and extended-release (ER) versions. Also, it is the only medication approved for diabetes treatment in children 10 years old and older. Both adults and children can take the IR version of Metformin, but only adults can take the ER version.

As with any medication, including wonder drugs, there are side effects, and Metformin is no exception. Metformin’s side effects include nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea. Some patients develop a B12 deficiency due to taking the drug. One study found healthy people 65 years old and over who take Metformin may have a harder time building new muscle.

There is also the potential for Metformin to cause a severe allergic reaction called lactic acidosis, a buildup of lactic acid in the bloodstream. In addition, doctors tend to avoid prescribing Metformin to people with significant kidney disease.

According to Dr. Shmerling, Metformin is a first-line treatment for type 2 diabetes, but its role in preventing or treating diseases, slowing aging, and extending life expectancy in people who do not have diabetes is not that clear.

“While the research so far is promising, we need more compelling evidence before endorsing its widespread use for people without diabetes,” Dr. Shmerling wrote.

Source Links:
https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2024/04/22/1245872510/a-cheap-drug-may-slow-down-aging-a-study-will-determine-if-it-works
https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-metformin-a-wonder-drug-202109222605
https://www.goodrx.com/metformin/medicare-coverage
https://www.goodrx.com/metformin/how-much-is-metformin-without-insurance

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