More than 60 years ago, an herb called goat’s rue became a traditional therapy for diabetes. Big Pharma was intrigued. In fact, the pharmaceutical industry used it as the primary source of a natural chemical to make the now popular drug metformin, which helps diabetics regulate their blood sugar levels.
But besides proving useful for diabetes, researchers discovered metformin has remarkable anti-aging benefits. And today, anti-aging researchers are falling all over themselves to study metformin in an effort to understand why it can not only extend life, but result in better health at the same time.
Here’s what you need to know whether you’re diabetic or not…
In the 1920s European scientists first discovered that goat’s rue was effective for lowering blood sugar. This didn’t come as a surprise to folk doctors who’d been using the herb traditionally to help people with diabetes for decades.
Eventually, in 1957, France approved a diabetes drug made from goat’s rue called Glucophage. But it wasn’t until 1994 that U.S. regulators at the FDA approved the drug, now called metformin, for use in the United States.
Controlling blood sugar and a whole lot more
In the 1990s, a study in England looked at the health of people with diabetes and found that no matter how well or poorly people with the disease controlled their blood sugar, taking metformin reduced their risk of heart attack and increased their life expectancy.1
Then, in 2005, scientists in Scotland found that the drug lowered the risk of cancer.2 The lists of cancers that metformin may help include: cancers of the stomach, pancreas, thyroid, prostate, uterus, colon, and breast.3 Plus, research demonstrates that in many cases it can help improve the effectiveness of cancer treatments.
Support for the aging body
Along with reducing the risk of cancer and heart problems, the latest research now shows that metformin can help the body age more healthfully.
For example, research at the University of Utah indicates that it can keep your muscles in better shape and might help stave off frailty.4 In these tests, scientists discovered that taking metformin in conjunction with leucine (an amino acid) increases cellular functions that resist muscle atrophy by promoting extra production of proteins that add to muscle health.
They also found that the combination reduces the amount of protein breakdown that would otherwise weaken muscles.
Other research indicates that metformin can…
- Increase life expectancy and lower the risk of delirium in older people: A study involving researchers at Stanford among others shows that metformin can have epigenetic effects (effects genes) that improve the body’s “longevity regulation pathway.” Plus, during the three-year study, metformin lowered the risk of delirium – a confused, disoriented mental state – by about 20 percent.5
- Lower the risk of joint replacement: A 12-year study in Asia involving around 70,000 diabetics with the average age 63, found that those taking metformin lowered their risk of needing new knees or hips. The chances of needing knee replacements dropped by about 25 percent, while the chances of requiring a hip replacement dropped by about 50 percent.6
- Lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and the risk of other dementias: A six-year study in Australia of about a thousand people aged 70 to 93 revealed that people with diabetes who take metformin have lower rates of dementia and slower cognitive decline. The researchers report that people with diabetes generally have a 60 percent chance of suffering dementia, but when taking metformin their risk comes down to the same level as people who do not have diabetes.7
Unique attributes of metformin
While a few researchers have been trying to duplicate metformin’s anti-aging benefits with natural compounds, so far, they’ve come up empty. But they’re still trying.
Meanwhile, the deep pockets of the pharmaceutical industry haven’t been made available to these metformin researchers, but the government of Saudi Arabia has agreed to help bankroll studies of the drug.
The research will be funded by the country’s Hevolution Foundation, a Saudi-created organization that is planning to spend about a $1 billion annually to underwrite research on the aging process.
If you decide you want to try metformin, studies suggest that you shouldn’t if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Plus, even if you’re a man who is part of a couple trying to get pregnant, you should avoid metformin.8
In some people, metformin can also cause a vitamin B12 deficiency – so you may need supplements. In addition, metformin may reduce your endurance during exercise and make it a little harder to bulk up if you’re trying to build big muscles. So, some experts advise not taking metformin on days when you’re planning an intense workout.
For some people, also, metformin can cause an increase in homocysteine which is linked to an increased risk of heart issues. So, if you’re taking metformin you should monitor your homocysteine levels with periodic blood tests.
Endorsed by Harvard anti-aging doctor
Despite these caveats, David Sinclair, PhD, co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research at Harvard, believes metformin can help many people slow the aging process. That’s why he personally takes 800 mg of metformin daily.
As he points out, in many cases people who have diabetes and take metformin are healthier than people without diabetes. Plus, in large studies, people taking metformin watched their risk for the typical diseases of aging drop significantly – “Which is what you would expect from a true longevity drug.”9
Certainly, as the studies of metformin continue, I’ll let you know what else gets discovered.