Diabetes drug Metformin is one of the most affordable and widely prescribed prescription drugs available for the treatment of diabetes type 2. Could it also help delay aging and extend the lifespan of healthy individuals?
A study published today in Cell revealed that it certainly can — at least if you’re a tiny worm called Caenorhabditis elegans. Lead researcher Dr Filipe Cabreiro from the UK’s University College London, said, “Overall, treatment with Metformin adds up to six days of life for the worm which is equivalent to around a third of its normal lifespan.”
The research indicated that Metformin affects the metabolism of gut bacteria, which in turn keeps the worm from digesting as many nutrients from its food. In other words, it has the same effect on the worm’s body as going on a calorie-restricted diet, which science already knows leads to longer life in some animals.
Metformin is cheap because it’s a generic that was first approved for human use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) back in 1958 and later approved specifically as a diabetes drug in 1995. According to CNN, the patent expired in 2002.
For years, such older drugs were ignored by big pharmaceutical companies because the lower prices and lack of an exclusive patent meant less room for profit.
However, governments around the world have changed their policies to encourage the so-called rescue of affordable drugs. Several of those studies have focused on Metformin’s use in fighting cancer. For instance, a Mayo Clinic study published in December revealed that women with diabetes who were being treated with Metformin survived longer with ovarian cancer than the women who didn’t have diabetes — even though their bodies had to fight two diseases instead of just one.
However, while the thought of increasing one’s own lifespan by one-third is interesting, the researchers noted that the diabetes drug might not work for that purpose in humans as well as it does in worms. The effect was wiped out, even in C. elegans, if sugar was added to the diet. And, of course, most humans now taking Metformin do have elevated blood sugar levels.
That’s the whole reason why they were prescribed the diabetes drug. Metformin already fights aging in worms. But it may need work to fight aging in humans.
[Metformin packaging photo by “Ash” via Wikipedia Commons]