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According to research, life expectancy has increased in the past few years. So, people are living longer but are those added years a blessing, or a curse? For a lot of people, those added years come with age-related diseases and ailments. As such, the goal has now become to not only live longer, but also healthier. So how can we achieve this? Researchers are looking at which compounds and ingredients may help us accomplish healthy aging, and one of them could be the antidiabetic drug metformin.

What is metformin?

Metformin is a prescribed anti diabetic drug and according to statistics, it is the most commonly prescribed medication to treat type 2 diabetes worldwide, with it being considered the drug of choice when it comes to the prevention and management of diabetes.

Diabetes Management

Metformin helps manage diabetes by lowering body sugar and improve the body’s insulin management. In doing so, it makes managing the condition easier, reducing the risk of complications but it also reduces the risk of one developing diabetes. For instance, a study published in Diabetes Spectrum found that, compared to a placebo, metformin significantly reduced the incidence of type 2 diabetes by 31% (lifestyle intervention reduced the risk by 58%).

As diabetes is one of the top 10 leading causes of death worldwide, it’s easy to see how metformin can be considered a compound that promotes health. However, its role in diabetes management is not the only reason why researchers believe that it can be used as an anti-aging tool. 

Longevity Benefits of Metformin

Anti-aging properties

In order to lower blood sugar levels, metformin activates the enzyme AMPK. As with many things that come with aging, levels of activated AMPK decrease as the years go by and replenish the levels of activated AMPK may help delay the aging process. 

iron and aging

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For instance, an animal study found that metformin-treated ringworms experienced higher AMPK activity and they also lived about 20% longer than untreated control animals. It appears that due to its AMPK-activating properties, metformin could soon become an anti-aging drug, especially because it could also be used to address other chronic conditions aside from diabetes.

Anti-cancer properties

According to statistics, people with diabetes face an increased risk of cancer, with the highest risk being for  liver, pancreatic, colorectal, endometrial, breast and bladder cancer. 

According to a study published in Oral Oncology, diabetic patients who were taking metformin had a 46% reduced risk of developing these cancers compared to non-diabetic patients.

However, it’s not just individuals with diabetes who can enjoy the cancer protective benefits of metformin. A comprehensive review published in Cancer Management and Research examined the potential role of metformin in cancer prevention and therapy. According to the findings, metformin has the potential to;

  • reduce the incidence of cancers
  • Reduce mortality from cancer
  • increase the response to treatment in cancer cells when using radiotherapy and chemotherapy
  • optimize tumor movement and reduce malignancy
  • reduces the likelihood of relapse

Protects against cardiovascular diseases

Cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death worldwide, and people with diabetes face an increased risk of developing the condition. That said, research indicates that metformin may be effective in cardiovascular disease prevention.

One contributing to heart disease is the hardening of the arteries, atherosclerosis, caused by a build up of plaque.  As mentioned, metformin can activate the enzyme AMPK and this may offer cardiovascular protection. According to one study, activated AMPK helps to weaken the development of atherosclerosis.

Reduces obesity risk

With a billion people expected to be living with obesity by 2030, researchers are looking to which avenues may help to curb these rising numbers, one of which could be metformin, due to its ability to activate AMPK.

Research has suggested that activated AMPK may offer protection against diet-induced obesity and it could also reduce body fat mass in both people living with diabetes and those without. 

While it may possess weight loss potential, metformin’s effect on humans remains inconsistent so it has yet to be officially approved as a medicine for weight loss.

Neuroprotective properties

Alzheimer’s disease is not only the most common cause of dementia, but it has also been referred to as “Type III diabetes”, due to the belief that poor regulation of insulin in the brain is a major risk factor for the neurological condition.

brain optimization

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In examining the relationship between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, one study published last year found that activated AMPK could be a valuable therapy for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease due to its ability to reduce the the accumulation of brain proteins, such as beta-amyloid, that have been linked to neurodegenerative diseases.

Reduces severity of COVID-19 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers noted that individuals with diabetes were the most likely to develop serious complications and increased mortality as a result of their diabetes diagnosis. If that’s not enough, a recent study published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology found that people who contracted COVID-19 face an increased risk of developing diabetes up to a year later compared with those who never had the disease.

That said, a study has indicated that metformin can reduce the risk of a COVID-19 related death in people with diabetes, compared to those who did not receive metformin. That said, studies have yet to find out if these COVID-protective effects go beyond those living with diabetes. 

Protects aging eyes

Age-related macular degeneration(AMD) is the most common cause of blindness among people over 50, but it appears that metformin may help you keep your eyesight as you age.

According to one study published in JAMA Ophthalmology, metformin reduced the risk of developing AMD in individuals with diabetes, highlighting the potential of the drug being used as a possible therapy to prevent or slow the progression of AMD. 

FDA Approves Metformin Anti-Aging Study

While the longevity benefits of metformin are promising, it appears that the effects are only to be enjoyed by animals or people living with diabetes. So, is it really the key to healthy aging or is it simply an effective diabetes drug?

To answer this question, the FDA approved a study in 2019 that will evaluate metformin’s anti-aging abilities, making it the first-ever FDA approved anti-aging study.

The Targeting Aging with Metformin (TAME) study, led by Dr. Nir Barzilai, scientific director of the American Federation for Aging Research, will engage with over 3 000 people, between the ages of 65 and 79, over a period of six years. The clinical trials over the six year period will test the anti-aging effects of metformin and evaluate if  those taking metformin experience delayed development or progression of age-related chronic diseases—such as heart disease, cancer, and dementia.

state of ageingAs of now,  no company has agreed to fund the study (likely because the thought of a single drug being effective enough to treat multiple conditions spells trouble for Big Pharma), so the study is on hold.

That said, the American Federation for Aging Research is seeking contributions in order to start the study. So, if you’d like to make a donation, you can do so here.

Should I use metformin to boost my longevity?

While metformin is a prescribed anti-diabetic drug, that does not mean that you shouldn’t take precautions when using it.

For one, metformin is known to interfere with the absorption of B12, and a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause a variety of symptoms, such as fatigue, headaches and depression. Additionally, the deficiency can also increase the risk for anemia. As such, individuals using metformin should regularly check their B12 levels. 

Additionally, if you are looking to take metformin, make sure to do your research first. Earlier this year, the FDA announced that New Jersey-based Viona Pharmaceuticals was voluntarily recalling 23 lots of metformin hydrochloride extended-release tablets. According to Viona, the tablets were found to be contaminated with NDMA, a carcinogen, 

“In an abundance of caution, the firm has decided to voluntarily recall 23 batches, which we have determined having a valid shelf life within the US market,” Viona said.

This is not the first time that Metformin tablets have been recalled, as in early 2020, the FDA revealed that its testing had found “certain extended release metformin products contain NDMA above the acceptable level.”

Following the announcement, several pharmaceutical companies followed suit with major metformin recalls.

Therefore, if you are looking to use metformin to improve your longevity, it would be advisable to speak to your healthcare provider so that they can properly advise you. 

Takeaway

Metformin has plenty of potential beyond the management of diabetes, with more and more studies unveiling its potential as an anti-aging drug. However, due to the number of recalls being performed by pharmaceutical companies, it is advisable that you speak to your healthcare provider before deciding to make metformin a part of your anti-aging routine.

MAIN IMAGE CREDIT: Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi

Want to know more?

Similar to metformin,  another ingredient that’s a trending topic of conversation in aging and longevity circles is NMN (nicotinamide mononucleotide) with more and more aging experts examining the potential of NMN to promote our longevity and protect our health span.

References

Blitzer, A. L., Ham, S. A., Colby, K. A., & Skondra, D. (2021). Association of Metformin Use With Age-Related Macular Degeneration: A Case-Control Study. JAMA ophthalmology139(3), 302–309. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2020.6331
Chen, M., Huang, N., Liu, J., Huang, J., Shi, J., & Jin, F. (2021). AMPK: A bridge between diabetes mellitus and Alzheimer’s disease. Behavioural brain research400, 113043. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2020.113043
De Haes, W., Frooninckx, L., Van Assche, R., Smolders, A., Depuydt, G., Billen, J., Braeckman, B. P., Schoofs, L., & Temmerman, L. (2014). Metformin promotes lifespan through mitohormesis via the peroxiredoxin PRDX-2. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America111(24), E2501–E2509. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1321776111
Figueiredo, R. A., Weiderpass, E., Tajara, E. H., Ström, P., Carvalho, A. L., de Carvalho, M. B., Kanda, J. L., Moyses, R. A., & Wünsch-Filho, V. (2016). Diabetes mellitus, metformin and head and neck cancer. Oral oncology61, 47–54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.oraloncology.2016.08.006
Flory J, Lipska K. Metformin in 2019. JAMA. 2019 May 21;321(19):1926-1927. doi: 10.1001/jama.2019.3805. PMID: 31009043; PMCID: PMC7552083.
Luo, P., Qiu, L., Liu, Y., Liu, X. L., Zheng, J. L., Xue, H. Y., Liu, W. H., Liu, D., & Li, J. (2020). Metformin Treatment Was Associated with Decreased Mortality in COVID-19 Patients with Diabetes in a Retrospective Analysis. The American journal of tropical medicine and hygiene103(1), 69–72. https://doi.org/10.4269/ajtmh.20-0375
Ou, H., Liu, C., Feng, W., Xiao, X., Tang, S., & Mo, Z. (2018). Role of AMPK in atherosclerosis via autophagy regulation. Science China. Life sciences61(10), 1212–1221. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11427-017-9240-2
Pollard, A.E., Martins, L., Muckett, P.J. et al. (2019). AMPK activation protects against diet-induced obesity through Ucp1-independent thermogenesis in subcutaneous white adipose tissue. Nat Metab 1, 340–349. https://doi.org/10.1038/s42255-019-0036-9
Pu, R., Shi, D., Gan, T., Ren, X., Ba, Y., Huo, Y., Bai, Y., Zheng, T., & Cheng, N. (2020). Effects of metformin in obesity treatment in different populations: a meta-analysis. Therapeutic advances in endocrinology and metabolism11, 2042018820926000. https://doi.org/10.1177/2042018820926000
Saraei P, Asadi I, Kakar MA, Moradi-Kor N. The beneficial effects of metformin on cancer prevention and therapy: a comprehensive review of recent advances. Cancer Manag Res. 2019 Apr 17;11:3295-3313. doi: 10.2147/CMAR.S200059. PMID: 31114366; PMCID: PMC6497052.
Xie, Y., & Al-Aly, Z. (2022). Risks and burdens of incident diabetes in long COVID: a cohort study. The lancet. Diabetes & endocrinology10(5), 311–321. https://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-8587(22)00044-4
Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a beauty and wellness writer who has a passion for poetry, equality, natural hair, and skin-care. With a journalism degree from Pearson's Institute of Higher Education, and identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to continuously provide the latest information, be it beauty or wellness, on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle on a day-to-day basis.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

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