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Type 2 Diabetes Drug Metformin Has Surprise Benefits

type 2 diabetes drug metformin

Metformin is one of the most commonly used drugs for treating type 2 diabetes. However, a new study suggests it provides some surprise benefits that are well worth exploring.

The study team from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine arrived at this conclusion after using two different drugs in their study: metformin and another common drug class used for type 2 diabetes called sulfonylurea. The former drug is more often prescribed than the latter.

Metformin (Fortamet, Glucophage, Glumetza, Riomet) is an oral type 2 diabetes medication in a class called biguanides. It helps lower the amount of sugar in the blood stream by reducing the production of glucose by the liver, delaying the absorption of sugar from the intestinal tract into the bloodstream after eating, and increasing muscle sensitivity to insulin. It can be used alone or along with a sulfonylurea or with insulin.

Sulfonylureas also are oral type 2 diabetes drugs. They are available in six different types: glyburide (Diabeta, Micronase, Glynase Prestab), tolbutamide (Orinase), tolazamide (Tolinase), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), glipizide (Glucotrol, Glucotrol XL), and glimepiride (Amaryl). They work by supporting the body’s cells better utilize insulin and by helping the pancreas produce more insulin.

Unlike metformin, however, sulfonylureas are associated with more significant or severe side effects. These can include weight gain, risk of hypoglycemia, and difficulty recovering from a heart attack. Metformin has demonstrated some additional health benefits, such as anticancer potential and improved heart health.

Metformin and sulfonylurea study
Researchers collected data from more than 180,000 individuals for the study. The goal was to compare the survival of people with diabetes who took metformin (78,241) with those who took sulfonylureas (12,222). In addition, survival times of people with diabetes were compared with people who did not have the disease (90,463) but who were similar in terms of age, gender, and clinical status.

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The findings were “illuminating,” according to Professor Craig Currie, the study’s lead author.

  • Individuals who took metformin showed a significant improvement in survival when compared with people without diabetes.
  • In addition, survival among people with diabetes who took sulfonylureas was lower than that of people without the disease.
  • Metformin even seemed to be helpful for people who had type 1 diabetes
  • Previous research has shown that metformin can cut the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by one-third among people with prediabetes.

Despite the benefits metformin can offer people who have type 2 diabetes, individuals must still pay close attention to their diet and exercise habits and should also strive to maintain a healthy weight and practice stress management. This broad lifestyle plan can best help with management of blood sugar and thus help prevent or reduce the risk of complications associated with type 2 diabetes, such as diabetic neuropathy, retinopathy, kidney disease, and various cardiovascular problems.

The latest findings concerning metformin add to the arsenal of information on this commonly prescribed drug. Further research is planned to determine how metformin can best be used as first-line treatment for people with type 2 diabetes to help improve life span and to explore the other benefits suggested in this study.

Note: The study was funded by Bristol Myers-Squibb, which makes Glucophage.

Also read about other type 2 diabetes drugs
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Bannister CA et al. Can people with type 2 diabetes live longer than those without? A comparison of mortality in people initiated with metformin or sulphonylurea monotherapy and matched, non-diabetic controls. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism 2014 Jul 7

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