Is metformin an anti-ageing panacea?
Metformin is a drug used to lower blood sugar and treat diabetes. It’s also become the darling of the anti-aging community and many of my patients because of its purported potential to prevent the diseases of ageing and help us live longer, healthier lives. There are a number of studies which show that metformin does reduce the incidence of cancer, heart disease and mortality by switching on a longevity promoting pathway called AMPK that mimics the benefits of starvation thereby encouraging our cells to become more resilient and survive longer. In fact, diabetic sufferers who take metformin do indeed live longer than those prescribed other treatments. There is also evidence that metformin assists with weight loss and lowers the incidence of cognitive decline and dementia.
However, metformin is not without its downside. It can cause abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting which for some would be intolerable. It also lowers vitamin B12 levels which in turn can raise homocysteine, a protein found in all of us that heightens the risk of heart disease and dementia. Vitamin B12 is vital for energy production and brain function and if we don’t get enough of this essential vitamin we might start to develop fatigue and experience a downturn in our mental capacities.
Not all the evidence for metformin’s benefits have been glowing. In older worms metformin proved toxic and reduced lifespan. In another study on humans lifestyle changes were more effective than metformin in preventing diabetes. In another taking this drug blunted exercise induced benefits on cardiovascular efficiency.
Because of its myriad benefits it could be touted as an anti-ageing wonder drug. Those taking it just need to be weary of its latent flaws and have their vitamin B12 and homocysteine levels regularly checked.