There’s a groundswell of opinion claiming benefits for metformin way beyond its accepted use for Type 2 Diabetes. All sorts of medical conditions appear to be benefiting from administration of this drug: obesity, PCOS, cancer, glycosylation, heart disease and even ageing.
How can this be?
Scientists aren’t entirely sure. They’re looking for the reason right now. A clue might be drug’s pharmaceutical name, Glucophage, which literally means glucose eating.
How does it work?
Metformin’s miraculous property is very simple: it reduces insulin resistance or, if you like, increases insulin sensitivity. Specifically it enhances the response to insulin which allows us to manage blood sugar better without increasing insulin levels, and that’s the important bit.
Stubborn Type 2 Diabetes that isn’t controlled by diet has for some time been treated by drugs which increase insulin production. The therapy works but with unwanted side effects of elevated cardiovascular risk and weight gain.
That Metformin can help insulin along without these side effects is exciting enough – but the fact that is appears to reduce risk factors for these and other disorders is faintly miraculous.
So what does it actually do?
Metformin reduces the level of glucose in the blood.
Run that one past me again…
Metformin reduces dangerously high blood glucose.
Is that all?
Yes. Scientists are looking for something more complicated but they haven’t found it yet. It really is that simple. High blood glucose is very dangerous for the human body.
How do we get dangerously high blood glucose?
By eating too many carbohydrates. Bread, pasta, potatoes, rice, cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks, fruit juice, smoothies, sugar, honey are examples of carbohydrates. When they are the biggest part of our diet the body can’t keep up. After a while our cell membranes become overwhelmed by constantly high sugar levels and stop letting the sugars into the cell. So it builds up in the blood and creates diabetes.
How do you know if you eat too much carbohydrate?
If you eat cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, include rice, pasta and potatoes with your dinner, then add fruit, fruit juice or smoothies into your diet, you are eating too much carbohydrate. If you add any sugary drinks, desserts or snacks on top of that, it’s way too much for your body to cope with. It might take months or years, but eventually you are likely to develop insulin resistance.
So reducing blood glucose can reverse obesity, PCOS, cancer, heart disease and… what was that?… glycosylation?
Yes, glycosylation is a sort of hardening of soft tissues in the body: think arteries, red blood cells, eyes, kidneys, and skin. It’s a direct result of having too much glucose in the blood. Glycosylation is also a major cause of wrinkles… and these symptoms correspond with the side effects of diabetes.
So if reducing blood sugar can reverse all that, might high blood sugar be the cause of all those diseases, not just diabetes?
Yes. It’s highly likely that it’s a major factor in cancer, obesity, diabetes, PCOS, heart disease and many other human ailments.
But I thought fat was the big diet culprit?
Well, the research on Metformin seems to contradict that fact. And the epidemiological data for reducing fat doesn’t support a reduction in cancer, obesity or diabetes. So…
So, blood sugar management is a very important factor in being healthy?
And eating lots of carbs makes it difficult for the body to keep blood sugar down?
So why are we advised to base our diet around multiple portions of bread, pasta, rice and fruit, and avoid too much fat?
Probably because the medical advice in our GP surgeries are so busy dealing with very sick people that they aren’t as up to date as they might be with latest research. And maybe because the medical and pharmaceutical professions are so focussed on developing drugs that they forget to research and update the diet advice. And possibly because the government are too scared of the food lobby to publish honest diet advice.
Why aren’t we all on metformin?
If the pharmaceutical companies get their way we all will be.
Is that a good idea?
In one way, yes it is. Anything is a good idea if it stops you being ill. But it’s a bit extreme. Why take a drug to reduce your blood sugar levels when all you need to do is eat less carbohydrate and a bit more fat?
Didn’t you write a book about reducing carbohydrate intake in a healthy way?
Where can I buy it?
And if I do that it’s likely not only that I’ll lose weight but I’ll reduce my risk factors for those other diseases you were talking about?
And no wrinkles too?