A cheap and common diabetes drug could end the misery of long Covid for millions, according to one of the only clinical trials of treatments for the condition.
Metformin, taken by around 20million type 2 diabetics in the US, decreased the risk of a person developing long Covid by 42 percent if used while infected.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota believe the drug can suppress the replication of infected cells in the body — reducing the oxidative stress and inflammation believed to be at the heart of long Covid.
In the trial, six percent of metformin users developed the condition – an amalgamation of many symptoms that plague sufferers for months after they beat the initial infection – compared to 10.6 percent of people in a control group.
The study finds yet another alternative use for the diabetes drug, also sold under the name Glucophage. Tech moguls have reportedly used it as a weight-loss tablet.
Metformin is the gold standard for type 2 diabetes and prediabetes treatment, but it may also help stave off long Covid symptoms
The above shows deaths involving long Covid (green bars) and deaths from Covid (blue line). It shows that long Covid fatalities rose shortly after Covid fatalities
Long Covid is defined by the World Health Organization as the development of new virus-related symptoms three months after the initial Covid infection.
These symptoms can last from months to years, with doctors often puzzled over what is causing them.
The condition includes a wide range of symptoms such as shortness of breath, brain fog and fatigue, and depression.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one in 13 US adults, or 7.5 percent, have long Covid.
But there is still serious debate about the true scale and severity of it. Several studies indicate that most people who develop the condition would suffer the common symptoms regardless of whether they had Covid.
Still, many scientists have been hunting for an effective treatment to stop the symptoms ever since it first started to emerge early in the pandemic.
Metformin treats diabetes by reducing the amount of sugar released by the liver into the blood, as well as improving the body’s response to insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels.
There is an increasing suggestion it has a wide variety of other effects that are not fully understood. It appears to dampen down inflammation, which is involved in all disease processes, including Covid.
The Minnesota research team, who posted pre-print findings of their study on Monday, recruited 1,125 participants who recently tested positive for Covid and had symptoms.
Each was randomly given either a placebo, ivermectin – the infamous anti-parasite drug, fluvoxamine – used to treat obsessive-compulsive disorder, metformin, or no medication at all to serve as a control.
They were followed up around nine months later, with researchers finding later whether they were ever medically diagnosed with long Covid.
Around six percent of people who took metformin were later given a diagnosis by a doctor.
This is compared to 10.6 percent of people in the placebo group – a 42 percent drop in risk.
When the drug was taken less than four days after symptoms started, people’s chances of getting long Covid decreased by more than 50 percent.
Other studies have shown metformin may prevent long Covid by lessening inflammation and oxidative stress or by ending the virus’s production.
Neither ivermectin or fluvoxamine lowered participants’ chances of suffering long Covid.
The findings may not be wholly applicable to the general population as the trial only included people who were overweight or obese and between the ages of 30 and 85.
The study is still in pre-print and is pending peer-review before publishing in a major medical journal.
Experts hailed the discovery as ‘promising’ and ‘very good news’.
Metformin is commonly used as a treatment for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes.
The above shows that men and women 85 years of age and older were at a much higher risk of having long Covid on their death certificates than those in younger age groups
It’s generally so effective and affordable that the WHO considers it an ‘essential’ medication for pharmacies worldwide.
The drug is considered safe, but does have a warning label that it may contribute to a condition called lactic acidosis, where an excess of lactic acid builds up in the blood.