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.
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.