Dear Dr. Sasha K: I read that the Metformin I take for my Type II diabetes has an anti-cancer benefit. Is this true?
In a word: yes. Metformin is an old drug that keeps making itself new. Metformin’s origins go back to medieval Europe where the French lilac plant was used to treat diabetes. The lilac contains biguanide, the main component of Metformin.
This drug works for diabetes by reducing the amount of glucose the liver makes by decreasing the amount of glucose the intestines absorb, and by enhancing patients’ sensitivity to their own insulin.
In addition to its anti-diabetic effects, Metformin is good for the cardiovascular system – lowering blood pressure and lipids, and lessening atherosclerosis. Some research centers are using Metformin in nondiabetics for these cardiovascular benefits.
Another application is in polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This condition is a problem for many women because it causes infertility, a tendency to diabetes and hirsutism (excess hair growth) and acne. Metformin has helped many young women obtain a desired pregnancy, while also helping them lose weight and reduce unwanted hair growth and acne.
Metformin has been found to play a role in the coagulation system; lessening unwanted clotting and improving the endothelium (the inner lining) of blood vessels so plaque does not accumulate as fast. In the brain Metformin can help the insulin resistance of brain cells in patients with Alzheimer’s. It also decreases oxidative stresses on brain cells and therefore, may have value in ALS, Parkinson’s and some cancers.
Finally, to answer your question, it’s Metformin’s potential as an anti-cancer therapy that has researchers most excited. It seems that this is because of its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant roles. For instance, Metformin has been shown to cause cancer cells to self-destruct. Of course, much further research is needed.