Metformin, which belongs to the biguanides class of drugs and is sometimes referred to by one of its many brand names (Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Diaformin, Diabex, Fortamet, Glumetza, or Riomet) is a drug primarily used to treat type 2 diabetes. Metformin was developed in the early 1920s from french lilac as a potential anti-viral. When it did not prove effective as an anti-viral it began to gain traction for its ability to stabilize blood sugar in diabetics.
In the 1950s official studies were launched to assess Metformin’s benefit as a treatment for diabetes. In a large study that lasted over twenty years, Metformin was found to provide good glycemic control and the potential to lower glucose levels with low cardiovascular risk. In 1994 three years after the study concluded Metformin was approved by the FDA. The drug was brought to market the following year.
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How Does Metformin Work to Treat Type 2 Diabetes?
Metformin works to help lower glucose levels and treat type 2 diabetes in three distinct ways.
- First, it works to reduce the amount of sugar that your liver releases into your bloodstream.
- Second, Metformin increases your body’s sensitivity to insulin. Which makes the insulin your body naturally produces more effective.
- Lastly, it decreases the amount of glucose your body naturally gets from food by blocking glucose absorption in the intestinal tract.
These three properties make Metformin incredibly effective at stabilizing blood glucose levels without the risk of hyperinsulinemia or hyperglycemia.
Can Metformin be Used to Treat Type 1 Diabetes?
Metformin alone is not an effective treatment for Type 1 diabetics. Type 1 or juvenile diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the pancreas to produce little or no natural insulin. It is a chronic lifelong disease that to date has no cure, and requires regular delivery of synthetic insulin.
While Metformin is currently not approved by the FDA for use in type 1 diabetics it is sometimes prescribed “off-label” (in a way that is generally accepted but not intended by regulatory agencies). Metformin can help reduce glucose production in the liver, which can be a problem for type 1 diabetics It can also help combat resistance to synthetic insulin by increasing insulin sensitivity in the body.
How Quickly does Metformin Start to Work?
Metformin is a fast-acting medication that does not metabolize in the body. Therefore it needs to be taken regularly. That being said you may be wondering how long for metformin to work? While most patients begin to see the effects of Metformin within 48 hours it will depend on the dosage and the individual’s reaction.
Most people see significant results within a week of starting metformin. Your doctor may choose to start you on a small dose of metformin and gradually increase it in order to ease your reaction to its common side effects.
What Side Effects are Common with Metformin?
Metformin is an extremely effective widely used medication, but it also has some common and uncomfortable side effects. The most frequently observed side effects when starting Metformin are gastric. This may include nausea, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, flatulence, and stomach cramps. The extended-release version of Metformin may be more easily tolerated for patients experiencing gastrointestinal side effects.
Another side effect that occurs in around 30% of people on Metformin is the reduced ability to absorb vitamin B12 in the intestines. This can cause a slight vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 deficiency can present as increased fatigue and anemia. You may also experience pins and needles in the hands and feet. Vitamin B12 deficiency can be treated with supplements.
Despite these side effects, the benefits of Metformin are clear. In fact, scientists are currently studying possible new uses for Metformin. Patients on Metformin may be at significantly lower risks of developing cancer. It’s also possible the drug reduces the formation of Alzheimer’s and improves the function of certain brain pathways by encouraging new cell growth. Almost a hundred years later we are still learning more about the benefits Metformin has to offer.