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Diabetes Drug That Helps Women's Hearts Does Men's Hearts Harm

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A drug used to treat type 2 diabetes has vastly different effects on the hearts of men and women. Investigators used positron emission tomography (PET scans) to measure blood flow and oxygen consumption in the heart. The patients were randomly assigned to take either metformin alone, metformin with rosiglitazone (AKA Avandia) or metformin with Lovaza, a pharmaceutical-strength fish oil.

Blood sugar control was not different among the groups, but when the scientists analyzed the data separately by gender, they were surprised. While the men suffered changes suggestive of heart failure, the women did better. In them, metformin lowered fat metabolism and increased glucose uptake by cells in the heart. This research suggests that doctors may need to recognize that women and men react differently to some medications.

[American Journal of Physiology--Heart and Circulatory Physiology, Dec. 1, 2013]

Metformin has been investigated for a number of other conditions in addition to diabetes. It has been suggested as a way to make lung cancer cells more susceptible to radiation, improve survival from prostate cancer, prevent breast cancer, treat polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)  and even to delay the development of dementia. It does have some unpleasant side effects, including a variety of digestive problems and the development of vitamin B12 deficiency

For more information on metformin and other ways to control blood sugar, we offer our Guide to Diabetes.

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rosiglitazone? avandia? I don't understand how or why doctors will prescribe this dangerous medication. It has been in the news for years as causing strokes and heart attacks. How can they do an study using this medicine? it totally absurd. Two male teachers in my school taking this medication got one a stroke and the other a heart attack, I stopped taking it when other people told me that, and it was in the news.

I take Metformin ER which is time-released and didn't have the digestive problems I had on regular metformin. But both caused a severe B-12 blocking which in turn caused a sharp prickling in my toes. My doctor suggested I take B-12 in the sublingual form (under the tongue) which goes into the blood stream directly instead of into the stomach where the metformin can block ingested B-12 in both food and pill form. Painful prickling went away that used to wake me in the middle of the night. Unless I forget to talk my B-12 for a couple of days and then it returns.

It is unfortunate that my diminished kidney function precludes Metformin, but the risk of deadly lactic acidosis makes this wonder drug unavailable to me. With an EGFR running around fifty-seven, it's just too dangerous.

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