One intervention that has been shown to extend life span or slow aging in all organisms tested to date is calorie restriction. Since the 1930s its been known that calorie restriction extends life span and slows aging. Calorie restriction induces a healthy stress on an organism triggering several benefical metabolic changes, improved insulin sensitivity, and improved neuroendocrine function. Metformin is the most commonly used drug to treat type 2 diabetes and appears to induce many of the same beneficial effects seen with calorie restriction.
How Does Metformin Work?
The life extension effects of calorie restriction are mediated by sirtuin proteins and it is believed the metformin may activate these proteins as well. Resveratrol, readily available in supplement form, activates sirtuin genes.
Diabetes is many times described as the classic model of accelerated aging due to the harmful effects of sugar. Metformin lowers blood sugar. But, what’s interesting is the life extension benefits of metformin appear to be independent of its blood sugar lowering properties. It may be through activation of sirtuin genes that metformin provides its anti aging effects. It also lowers cholesterol and triglycerides reducing heart disease risk enhancing life span.
In laboratory mice metformin has been shown to extend life span 20%.
What Are the Side Effects of Metformin?
Metformin has been around since the 1920s when it was discovered to lower blood sugar. Its use lost favor once insulin became available. So metformin has been around for nearly 100 years. It is generally well tolerated, but can cause some GI discomfort and nausea and diarrhea. It can cause vitamin B12 deficiency and B12 levels should be checked periodically if taking metformin.
The most dangerous reported side effect of metformin is the development of lactic acidosis that is fatal in 50% of people who develop. Fortunately, lactic aciosis is a rare occurrence and is limited to people with conditions that predispose to lactic acidosis like congestive heart failure, kidney failure, sepsis, and hypoxia. Of the first one million patients in the US that were placed on metformin 47 developed lactic acidosis, or 0.0047%. Only 4 of those patients did not have any other risk factor for lactic acidosis. So don’t let this side effect of metformin deter you from its use.
Other Benefits of Metformin
Metformin is the drug of choice for women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) which is really a metabolic disorder rather than a primary disorder of the ovaries. It has anti-cancer effects through enhanced immune function. It can facilitate weight loss and is one of the few diabetic drugs that does not lead to weight gain.
Metformin in a sentence: metformin appears to provide the metabolic benefits associate with calorie restriction without the need to reduce calories and in the process may slow aging.
A very small number of physicians are beginning to prescribe metformin in patients who have normal blood sugars but on the high end because of metformin’s other health benefits.