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History of Metformin

Metformin was originally discovered in 1922, but it did not receive approval for another fifty years or more[1]. The French physician Jean Sterne initiated the first study in humans in the 1950s; it was registered as a medicine in France in 1957, but it was not approved until 1995 in the United States[2].

The World Health Organization lists Metformin on its model list of essential medicines, a list of the most effective and safe medicines that are critical in a health system. To that end, metformin is believed to be one of the most widely used drugs used for the treatment of diabetes.

Metformin is marketed under the name Glucophage, among others, and is a generic drug, as the patent ended decades ago. It is a first-line medication for the treatment of type 2 diabetes and is used in the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome.

Potential Health Benefits

Metformin is in the biguanide class of drugs. It works by decreasing glucose production in the liver and increasing the insulin sensitivity of bodily tissues.

There is some evidence that metformin may help to prevent the cardiovascular and cancerous complications of diabetes[3-4]. Metformin is also not associated with weight gain, so it is ideal for diabetics who suffer from weight control issues, which are common in diabetes.

Generally speaking, metformin is well tolerated[5], though some common side effects can include diarrhea, nausea and abdominal pain. There is risk of high blood lactic acid if taken inappropriately and in overly large doses[6]. It should not be used by people with significant liver damage or kidney problems.

Metformin is of interest to those working in the field of rejuvenation biotechnology and mouse studies show it increases lifespan and healthspan[7]. There is also some data that suggests that type 2 diabetics that take metformin may also live longer than non-diabetics[8].

We were able to interview Prof. Vladimir N. Anisimov (MD, PhD, DSc), Head of the Department of Carcinogenesis and Oncogerontology in N.N. Petrov Research Institute of Oncology, Saint-Petersburg, Russia. He is also the President of the Gerontology Society of the Russian Academy of Sciences and editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Advances in Gerontology; the journal is available here.

Prof. Anisimov is well-known for his breakthrough studies on the regulation of circadian rhythm by the sleep hormone melatonin as well as the ability of biguanides to prevent cancer and extend lifespan, as he is the author of many studies on metformin, phenformin, and buformin. He took the time to talk to us about his work with metformin and other geroprotectors, and we hope you enjoy the interview.

Disclaimer

This article is only a very brief summary, is not intended as an exhaustive guide and is based on the interpretation of research data, which is speculative by nature. This article is not a substitute for consulting your physician about which supplements may or may not be right for you. We do not endorse supplement use or any product or supplement vendor, and all discussion here is for scientific interest.

References

[1] Fischer, J., & Ganellin, C. R. (Eds.). (2010). Analogue-based drug discovery II. John Wiley & Sons.

[2] Stargrove, M. B., Treasure, J., & McKee, D. L. (2008). Herb, nutrient, and drug interactions: clinical implications and therapeutic strategies. Elsevier Health Sciences.

[3] Malek, M., Aghili, R., Emami, Z., & Khamseh, M. E. (2013). Risk of cancer in diabetes: the effect of metformin. ISRN endocrinology, 2013.

[4] Griffin, S. J., Leaver, J. K., & Irving, G. J. (2017). Impact of metformin on cardiovascular disease: a meta-analysis of randomised trials among people with type 2 diabetes. Diabetologia, 60(9), 1620-1629.

[5] Triggle, C. R., & Ding, H. (2017). Metformin is not just an antihyperglycaemic drug but also has protective effects on the vascular endothelium. Acta Physiologica, 219(1), 138-151.

[6] Lipska, K. J., Bailey, C. J., & Inzucchi, S. E. (2011). Use of metformin in the setting of mild-to-moderate renal insufficiency. Diabetes care, 34(6), 1431-1437.

[7] Martin-Montalvo, A., Mercken, E. M., Mitchell, S. J., Palacios, H. H., Mote, P. L., Scheibye-Knudsen, M., … & Schwab, M. (2013). Metformin improves healthspan and lifespan in mice. Nature communications, 4, 2192.

[8] Bannister, C. 1., Holden, S. E., Jenkins‐Jones, S., Morgan, C. L., Halcox, J. P., Schernthaner, G., … & Currie, C. J. (2014). Can people with type 2 diabetes live longer than those without? A comparison of mortality in people initiated with metformin or sulphonylurea monotherapy and matched, non‐diabetic controls. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, 16(11), 1165-1173.

 

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About the author

Steve Hill

As a scientific writer and a devoted advocate of healthy longevity and the technologies to promote them, Steve has provided the community with hundreds of educational articles, interviews, and podcasts, helping the general public to better understand aging and the means to modify its dynamics. His materials can be found at H+ Magazine, Longevity reporter, Psychology Today and Singularity Weblog. He is a co-author of the book “Aging Prevention for All” – a guide for the general public exploring evidence-based means to extend healthy life (in press).
About the author
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Elena Milova

As a devoted advocate of rejuvenation technologies since 2013, Elena is providing the community with a systemic vision how aging is affecting our society. Her research interests include global and local policies on aging, demographic changes, public perception of the application of rejuvenation technologies to prevent age-related diseases and extend life, and related public concerns. Elena is a co-author of the book “Aging prevention for all” (in Russian, 2015) and the organizer of multiple educational events helping the general public adopt the idea of eventually bringing aging under medical control.
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