In what is being called a world first, metformin will be soon tested on 3,000 70-somethings for its reputed antiaging properties, according to scientists. Those trialling the drug hope that it will help people live in good health even in their 110s and 120s, which could also prevent diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. This is not without reason: when metformin was tested on the roundworm C. elegans, the worms stayed visibly younger and healthier for longer, looking less wrinkly and well, more elegant. Mice had their lifespan increased by 40% and stronger bones, while it has been observed in humans that diabetics on metformin even lived longer lives than non-diabetics, despite an average life expectancy that is 8 years shorter. Metformin can also increase survival in cancer patients with Type II diabetes.
So what does metformin actually do? It stabilises blood sugar levels! But what about just changing your diet, instead of relying on pharmaceutical drugs, which can have negative side effects and are often subject to unfair price hikes? One study on a low sugar diet involved 43 children on eating plans where sugar was around 10% of their diets, instead of an average of 28%, still found positive results even though it only ran for 9 days! There was a reduction of diastolic blood pressure by 5 mmHg, while lactate dropped by 0.3 mmol/L; glucose tolerance and insulin resistance also improved. These results were similar among both the children who lost weight and those who didn’t. All children had obesity and metabolic syndrome, which result in a faster rate of aging due to increased tissue damage. Therefore, a reduced tissue damage from consuming less sugar can have other health promoting, antiaging effects when these dietary changes are kept up for longer than 9 days. This is because much of aging is caused by Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs) accumulating in the body, creating structural damage and inhibiting normal functions. This is why people with diabetes, especially poorly controlled diabetes, are aging faster than normal, with higher risks of age related diseases and worse health. While a “normal” person would have a glycation rate of their blood’s haemoglobin (HbA1c) of less than 6.5%, diabetics often have 8, 10 or even 12% glycation rates! These AGEs cannot be removed, which is why it takes several months (the life of a red blood cell) to see the full effects of changing one’s diet on HbA1c. Fortunately, nutrients such as carnosine can inhibit glycation and may even improve tissue health, but these cannot be patented unlike metformin, so are not mentioned in articles about the aforementioned study. However, Life Extension does seem to sell a good anti-glycation formula.
Metformin, in fact, is actually derived from the herb known as Goat’s Rue, or Galega officinalis. This is able to inhibit fatty acid synthesis and increase glucose uptake into cells, thus reducing blood sugar levels. Another herbal medicine that can control blood glucose, even in non-diabetics, is cinnamon. Thirty participants underwent an oral glucose tolerance test, either with or without immediate administration of cinnamon tea, in order to measure its effects. After 30 minutes, there was a difference in blood sugar of 1.27 mmol/L (10.14 vs 8.87) between the control and cinnamon groups. At 60 minutes, the control and cinnamon groups had blood sugar levels of 8.75 and 8.24 mmol/L respectively; at 90 minutes this was 7.66 and 7.29 mmol/L respectively. The cinnamon tea also exhibited a strong antioxidant effect. It was stated that these results were independent of which species of the Cinnamomum genus used. Another study showed a positive effect of cinnamon in insulin resistance among women with PCOS. While the upcoming study on metformin (abbreviated as the TAME study for those who are interested) sounds like it may yield a promising treatment for aging, we may not have to rely on a drug to achieve the same effects. I have not really had any experience with this drug, but one of my teachers does say that it is relatively innocuous, however individual experiences and choices are more important than insisting on one teacher's views (which are more pro-pharmaceutical than usual).