Metformin was created in the 1920s by chemists who were working with the French lilac plant. That’s because healers had been using French lilac for centuries to control the symptoms of type 2 diabetes. The drug was eventually marketed under the name Glucophage in 1957 in Europe. The FDA approved this interesting medication in 1957. It is available generically at a very modest price. This reader refers to new research suggesting that this drug might be helpful against cancer.
More Info on Metformin Needed:
Q. You’ve written that metformin helps keep cancer away. Then why doesn’t everyone take it? What are the side effects of this drug? Are the side effects serious enough to cancel the benefits of taking metformin if one is not diabetic?
A. Metformin is a pillar of type 2 diabetes treatment. Recently researchers have discovered an anti-cancer effect of the drug in the breast, pancreas, liver, colon, ovaries and prostate (Experimental and Clinical Endocrinology & Diabetes, May, 2016).
Most doctors are understandably cautious about prescribing this drug for cancer prevention because more research is needed. This is an off-label use. The only approved use for metformin is in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
Side effects can include digestive distress (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, indigestion, abdominal pain), rash, exhaustion and headache. Vitamin B12 levels can also be depleted and require supplementation.
The most serious, though rare, complication is lactic acidosis associated with failure of the heart and other organs.
When people with type 2 diabetes have reduced kidney function they are at greater risk of lactic acidosis from diabetes drugs. It can also occur in healthy people when they exercise way too hard.
This condition is characterized by elevated blood lactate levels. Symptoms of lactic acidosis include:
- Confusion, cognitive impairment, anxiety, headache
- Fatigue, lethargy, sleepiness, weakness
- Digestive tract upset, poor appetite, nausea, vomiting,
- Rapid pulse, irregular heart rhythms, rapid breathing, sweating, clammy skin
- Sweet smelling breath
Lactic acidosis can lead to a life threatening crisis if not dealt with promptly. Kidney function testing is essential to prevent this kind of reaction. Dehydration adds to the problem so people on metformin should stay well hydrated.