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Metformin: Miracle drug?

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There seems to be some benefit to people taking metformin. My dad never had diabetes but he had been overweight for most of his adult life and was considered pre-diabetic at one point. He started taking metformin it changed his life. 

Metformin, which is the generic form of the brand drugs Glucophage, Glucophage XR, and Riomet, is common treatment for Type II diabetes. But I’ve also seen it prescribed for people who don’t have diabetes. My dad takes it and he never had diabetes. There are a few fascinating claims about this drug.

In 2015, Metformin was looked at for having a potential role in preventing or stopping cancer. The findings were published the peer reviewed Annual Review of Medicine. Researchers reported that this tried and true diabetes drug plays a role in helping cellular energy.  Do you remember learning about ATP (Adenosine Triphophate) in biology? It was taught years ago as the “Krebs” Cycle, named after Hans Krebs. If not, just skip the next paragraph. But if so, read on.

If you remember the Krebs Cycle you’ll also remember that the “T” represents the three phosphate molecules that are attached to the “A” which stands for Adenosine. All together it means Adenosine-Tri-Phosphate. When two molecules of phosphate are attached to the Adenosine, the “T” becomes “D” (ADP) and it’s called Adenosine-Di-Phosphate. When there’s one phosphate, the middle letter becomes “M” (AMP), and it’s called Adenosine-Mono-Phosphate). Well, Metformin plays a role in AMP. It creates a situation where AMP builds up and causes other reactions in the body to balance it back out. 

It’s not important to know the details to understand that our cells turn chemicals into energy. And Metformin plays a role in disrupting the energy balance which causes biochemical reactions in our body that facilitate the disruption of cancer cells. 

Photo by Zach Vessels

In 2018, an article published in the Naturemedicine which I shared right here (in fact, this update is replacing that post) that Metformin can reverse the lung fibrosis. Think of firbrosis like scar tissue that grows too much. When it happens in the lungs it can interfere with breathing. In this article, the authors reported on the results a clinical trial involving humans and mice in which they found that Metformin reverses the fibrosis. In the simplest terms possible. The researchers found that Metformin has a role in stopping the scar tissue from growing. This is good news because fibrosis in the lungs (called pulmonary fibrosis) can be fatal and there’s no cure for it. 

In 2019, researchers started looking at Metformin for a potential role in  extending life. They studied the energy processes (AMP) of a male silkworm and found it was the same pathways that disrupted cancer metabolism that play a role in extending life, even without cancer. They found this to be true in the silkworm, in mice, and in rats. But it didn’t work in fruit flies. Fruit flies have been studied in science because of their extremely short life cycle (10 days). When I was a high school teacher, I taught a science lesson by letting a banana rot in a jar, We observed the growth, peak and decline of the fruit flies in BananaWorld and learned about populations genetics. 

Right around the time that it was reported that Metformin may play a role in curing cancer and extending life, there were cries to have it recalled from the market because it might actually cause cancer.  That could have potentially been devastating to the medical community because the primary use for metformin is in the treatment of Type II diabetes. 

In February 2020, the FDA announced that it has no plans to recall Metformin, after some concern from other countries that the drug contained a carcinogen (cancer causing agent).  The FDA reported that it conducted tests on the drug and released a statement that metformin was not contaminated with an unsafe level of the cancer causing agent N-NDMA (nitrosodimethylamine). Further the FDA advised patients to continue taking it and they published their results of their testing.   

One thing that my dad when he was prescribed Metformin was to make some lifestyle changes. He didn’t start an exercise program but told me once that he just stopped eating after 7:00 pm. He hasn’t been overweight in years. So, as to whether or not metformin is a miracle drug, it’s probably not a miracle, doesn’t the bible say something about miracles not being man made? But it metformin may be helping some people that might  otherwise not have done well with their health. Perhaps it’s inspiring people, like my dad, to make better choices. Too

Photo by National Cancer Institute

often, people look to drugs to cure them. Cure has never been the purpose of medication. Medications don’t cure any disease. At best, they stop a physiological process in our body that has gone wrong. At worst, they stop all of our physiological processes and kill us.

A few years ago I was prescribed a cholesterol medication. I was out of shape, overweight and I ate a lot of fast food. My cholesterol was definitely high, but I refused. I told my doctor that I wanted to try changing my lifestyle first. She reluctantly agreed and was anything bu encouraging. She ordered blood tests every six months. At first, I didn’t make any progress. And I heard another lecture. But I was determined to continue to try. A whole year went by before I actually lost any weight. I kept taking steps. Eat a little less. Monitor my calories. Walk a little more. Stairs instead of elevator. Before long, the second year went by and I had lost 30 pounds. My cholesterol improved and it inspired me to do more. In December of 2019, I stopped eating meat. Yesterday, I took out my old Jack LaLaine juicer and made a glass of carrot juice. I’m a work in progress.

I’m not a fan of medications. I used to preach about it’s flaws when I was a chiropractor. And even though I’ve been retired since 2010, I find it hard to go back on what I preached for so many years. But, now that I’m not teaching it, I’ve softened my position just a bit. If taking metformin helped my dad adopt a healthier lifestyle and get to the healthy condition hes’ in, the I’m okay with that. But I would ask the next obvious question. Now that’s healthier, when could it be time to wean off of it?  

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