A cheap diabetes pill has become the latest craze among tech moguls who claim it can reverse aging and melt body fat.
Metformin- the world’s most common treatment for type 2 diabetes – has been shown to promote weight loss, while preliminary studies in mice models suggest the medication can improve life and health spans.
The drug has gained traction in recent years among Sillicon Valley techies and major money men including Ariel Poler, a veteran angel investor in biotech, and Jim Mellon, a UK entrepreneur and co-founder of the biotech firm Juvenescence.
Metformin has been overshadowed by other, more effective drugs for weight loss – Wegovy for obesity and Ozempic for diabetes, which has also proven effective at lowering weight. Still, its low price and widespread availability has made metformin a go-to boost for slimming down and improving longevity.
However, it comes with one side effect that has many users reeling — explosive diarrhea.
Metformin is the gold standard for type 2 diabetes and prediabetes treatment, but it is increasingly being used off label to improve longevity and promote weight loss
Tech tycoon Bryan Johnson, who takes dozens of supplements everyday including Metformin has undergone a significant transformation since first embarking on his multi-million-dollar wellness journey in 2017 (pictured left)
It has also proven popular among high profile figures in tech including venture capitalist Robert Nelsen, wealthy software entrepreneur Bryan Johnson and .
Mr Johnson, a well known biohacker, made headlines recently with news that he spends about $2 million annually a year on a team of more than 30 doctors and medical experts seeking to engineer his body into that of an 18-year-old.
Its popularity has spiked recently for another promising feature – it might reduce your chances of getting long COVID by more than 40 percent.
Metformin is commonly used as a treatment for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. It’s generally so effective and affordable that the World Health Organization considers it an ‘essential’ medication for pharmacies worldwide. But it is often used off label for weight loss.
The mechanism by which metformin causes weight loss is unclear, but doctors have several theories.
Because it reduces how much glucose circulates in the blood, it may decrease how much excess glucose is stored as fat. It has also been shown to reduce hunger cues, which could suppress appetite and thus lead to weight loss.
It reduces plasma glucose and has been shown to increase levels of glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1).
GLP-1 affects areas of the brain that regulate appetite and reward. A weaker appetite often translates to less caloric intake, which can lead to weight loss.
GLP-1 is also believed to increase the body’s sensitivity to leptin, a hormone produced by fat cells that plays a role in regulating body weight.
While metformin can help shed pounds, scientific evidence shows that the pay off is marginal.
In fact, the average number of pounds lost is around five. An extensive study of prediabetics performed by the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) in 2012 reported that those randomly assigned to take metforming lost an average of just 4.6 pounds.
Meanwhile, another study published in 2013 found that the drug could improve both the healthspan and lifespan of mice.
The main side effect of the drug is diarrhea. Many users reporting that their daily lives have been considerably impaired because of it.
Up to a quarter of all diabetic metformin users experience severe GI issues with approximately five percent unable to tolerate metformin at all.
While some patients will experience severe bouts of it when they initially start the medication, at which point they can try an extended release formula or a lower-carb diet, many patients on the medication can go years without those side effects.
In 2016, an 80-year-old man who had been treating his type 2 diabetes for five years went to his doctor complaining about an eight-month-long history of chronic painless diarrhea, with six to eight explosive loose bowel movements per day. While metformin had helped him lose 10 pounds, the side effects were debilitating.
The man’s medical team had recently increased his dose of metformin, and while he had tolerated that higher dose in the past, he now could not.
Doctors in Ontario, Canada who presented the case study said: ‘In the absence of any other cause of diarrhea, he was asked to try discontinuing the metformin, and this resulted in an immediate complete resolution of diarrhea, he described it was as if “a tap had been turned off”.
‘Currently, he remains off the metformin, his weight loss has stabilized, and he has not had any recurrence of diarrhea.’
Metformin is an overwhelmingly safe medication. Still, it has a black box warning imposed by the FDA indicating that may contribute to a condition called lactic acidosis in which an excess of lactic acid builds up in the blood. The condition could prove fatal.