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Metformin: A Common Diabetic Drug That Increases Longevity


Many doctors prescribe metformin to diabetic patients. Doctors trust the drug, particularly since the landmark United Kingdom Prospective Study that showed that overweight Type 2 diabetics on metformin lived longer and suffered fewer heart attacks than those with the same blood glucose levels achieved using insulin. The history of metformin provides a good example of how an unusual herb can become a powerful treatment. 

Metformin originates from the plant Galega officinalis or French lilac, goat’s plant or goat’s rue. This plant was fed to goats to improve milk production.  It grows as a perennial herb, 3 feet tall, with purple, blue or white flowers and was used in the Middle Ages to treat frequent urination, a side effect of diabetes. The Native American Seminole tribe used the insecticide roterone, found in the roots of Galega officinalis, in fishing. Fish were stunned by roterone, and were much easier to catch. This plant has powerful properties and is now widely considered poisonous. 

Metformin was first described by scientists in 1920. Chemists found that they could make the active compound from this plant, guanidine, more tolerable to be ingested by bonding two guanidines together forming a biguanide. This compound, which could lower blood sugar, was first synthesized in 1929.  However, insulin had also been discovered during this time and became the more popular option for controlling blood sugar.  Metformin was neglected and ignored until 1950 when metformin was used to treat influenza. Doctors noted metformin decreased glucose levels.  

In 1958, Metformin was finally released in the United Kingdom as a treatment of lowering blood sugars.  This drug was clinically developed and called Glucophage (“glucose eater”). Glucophage was released in the United States in 1995 and quickly became a popular medicine.  Finally after half a century, it’s potential was realized. Metformin has now become the world’s most widely prescribed anti-diabetic agent and is universally recommended as the first therapy for Type 2 diabetes. 

Metformin works by lowering the rate of hepatic glucose production, which is three times higher in people with Type 2 diabetes.  Probably through reduction of insulin resistance, metformin can reduce cardiac risk factors and may decrease cardiac events. Since metformin does not cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), it can be safely utilized in a variety of diseases such as pre-diabetes, gestational diabetes, polycystic ovary disease, sleep apnea, osteoporosis and cancers. 

Metformin’s has also been noted to have a positive effect on longevity due to its anti-cancer effect.  Since having Type 2 diabetes is a major risk for developing cancer (pancreas, bladder, ovary, breast, prostate, colon and liver) patients with Type 2 diabetes have a lower risk of developing these cancers if they are utilizing metformin. 

This very economical and widely available medication has been shown to safely treat multiple diseases in addition to Type 2 diabetes and to improve longevity in both the diabetic and non-diabetic patient. Metformin has come a long way from its humble “roots”.  Fortunately, research rediscovered this powerful perennial herb. And now metformin has ascended to being the drug of first choice for patients with Type 2 diabetes.



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