New research reveals its cancer-preventing, brain-boosting powers
You know I’m no fan of most pharmaceutical drugs. But I make an exception for metformin.
First of all, metformin can hardly be considered a drug, since it’s derived from the French lilac plant, also known as goat’s rue. And this botanical ancestry is one reason why metformin has so many metabolic benefits (which I’ll talk more about in just a moment).
Of course, metformin’s chief metabolic effect is controlling blood sugar in people with Type II diabetes. And now, a new study shows it can also influence iron metabolism.
As you know, excess iron in the blood is a major risk factor for cancer, heart disease, liver disease, and a variety of infections. (The mainstream, on the other hand, continues to ignore this.)So this study may show another key way metformin helps to prevent chronic disease beyond diabetes.
And that’s not all this amazing drug can do. More and more, I’m seeing studies demonstrating metformin’s ability to rapidly penetrate the blood-brain barrier (the membrane that shields your brain from harmful compounds). Researchers believe it protects brain cells by supporting energy metabolism and preventing inflammation.
So it’s not surprising that a new study found that metformin can also improve cognitive function in older adults.
And the reason why metformin can provide all of these health benefits is because it appears to work differently—and more effectively—than other diabetes drugs.
The drug that works right in the gut—and beyond
Over the past year, I’ve been keeping you updated on all the new research showing that metformin works (at least in part) through its fast-acting effects on the microbiome—the environment inside the GI tract where healthy probiotic bacteria thrive—before it even gets into the bloodstream.
(Keep in mind most medications are first absorbed by the gut, and then transported into the blood before you even start to feel the effects…)
That’s one way that metformin is clearly different from other diabetes drugs.
And with its minimal side effects, and host of health benefits, it’s one drug that goes well beyond just simply preventing the complications of diabetes in the eyes, kidneys, and peripheral nerves…
Metformin is also the only diabetes drug that doesn’t cause weight gain. In fact, it’s now being studied for use as a weight loss drug.
Additionally, it’s also recently become the treatment of choice for polycystic ovarian syndrome in women of all ages.
It’s even being touted as a healthy aging drug because it helps balance levels of hormones like estrogen and testosterone that can diminish as we age.
And if that weren’t enough, there’s growing evidence that metformin can also lower your risk of pancreatic, breast, ovarian, colon, lung, and prostate cancers.
Which leads me to the new study on metformin’s effects on iron metabolism.
Metformin runs interference with iron levels
Researchers continue to study how metformin works to help cells better absorb and use glucose. These efforts led to new lab research showing that metformin appears to make cells behave as if they’re “starving for iron” by interfering with how iron is distributed within the cell.1
Researchers have long suspected there’s a connection between iron metabolism and diabetes, but this study is the first to illustrate that metformin’s ability to mimic iron starvation appears important to glucose metabolism.
The researchers said this effect may also help explain the potential benefits of metformin for prevention of many chronic diseases, including cancer.
As my research with Nobel laureate Baruch Blumberg showed 30 years ago, excess iron in the body is a risk factor for all types of cancer in both men and women. And other research shows that excess iron is a risk factor for heart disease, infections, and liver disease.
Metformin outperforms a dementia drug
As I mentioned earlier, metformin can also influence the brain as well as the body. In fact, I’ve suggested for years that Alzheimer’s disease could be considered “type 3 diabetes,” so it should come as no surprise that treating diabetes with metformin has cognitive benefits as well.
In the new study I mentioned earlier, Chinese researchers gathered 100 men and women, with an average age of 68, who suffered from impaired glucose metabolism and cognitive issues related to vascular effects rather than dementia.2
The study participants were divided into two groups. For a year, one group was given metformin plus the dementia drug donepezil, and the other group was given acarbose (an enzyme inhibitor that lowers glucose) plus donepezil.
All participants’ cognitive status, glucose metabolism, and blood flow in the internal carotid artery—which supplies the brain with blood—were measured at the start and end of the trial.
Those who were given metformin had improved cognitive functions and auditory verbal learning (which measures your ability to encode, combine, store, and recover verbal information) at the end of the study.
But there was no improvement in the group that received acarbose.
Remember, both groups also received the dementia drug donepezil. But only the metformin group had improved cognitive function—so it appears that the effects were also due to metformin rather than donepezil.
Although it’s clear the dementia drug did no good in either group, the researchers still recommended that donepezil be taken—with metformin—to improve cognitive function.
An effective tool to fight cardiovascular disease
Another interesting finding from this study is that the metformin group had a significant decrease in fasting insulin and insulin resistance compared with the acarbose group. And those on acarbose had more carotid artery atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) after one year, compared to the metformin group.
So this leads us to believe that metformin prevents cardiovascular disease as well as cognitive problems.
So if you have blood sugar issues or Type II diabetes, you should absolutely ask your doctor about taking metformin. It can be a surefire way to protect yourself from a whole host of chronic, age-related diseases.
Unfortunately, for a majority of doctors, it’s not currently prescribed solely to treat any other conditions (aside from some cases of PCOS).
However, if you suffer from any of the other conditions I mentioned today, it’s well worth speaking to your doctor to see if they can recommend a specialist.
Science has shown us that yet again, nature-derived drugs rein supreme.