Diabetes Drug With ‘Anti-Aging Potential’ Could Be Dangerous To Your Brain

Metformin was the fourth most prescribed drug in 2016 with over 81 million prescriptions that year. The drug is sold by various brands as the first-line treatment for type 2 diabetes and was approved in the U.S. in 1995 after it was first introduced in France in 1957. Only recently in 2016, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) gave its approval to conduct human studies on its anti-aging properties. 

Before this was officially announced, several people from Silicon Valley began experimenting with this so called wonder drug to delay aging years ago. One such person who has come out in the open about the experimentation is Dave Asprey, the New York Times bestselling author and founder of Bulletproof Nutrition Inc. In his blog, he recalls taking metformin for a period of three years in his early 30s when he was working in the IT industry in California. He was part of a research project on anti-aging by a biotechnology group. 

But why were people opting for a drug prescribed to treat diabetes for prolonging youth ? An old press release by Life Extension, an organization dedicated to researching the extension of human lifespan, offers an explanation behind the potential scientists see in metformin as the ultimate life extending drug.  

“Metformin enhances the activity of an enzyme found within our cells called adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase — or AMPK for short. AMPK activation helps mimic the beneficial effects of calorie restriction, the best documented method of slowing and reversing biomarkers of human aging,’’ reads the news release. 

diabetes The American Diabetes Association estimates that at least 1.5 million Americans are being diagnosed with the disease every year in the country. Pixabay

Why did Asprey not reap these benefits?

Asprey fell for this message. Three years into consuming the drug, he found that metformin interferes with the body’s ability to absorb vitamin B12, that is necessary for preventing neurodegenerative diseases. The vitamin also boosts the immune system, generates new cells and protects the arteries, all factors crucial to smooth brain functioning. 

Ever since Asprey found out that he already has the rare MTHFR gene mutation that prevents B12 absorption, he stopped taking metformin to not add to the problem. Asprey’s recommendation was to “add a high-quality B12 supplement in the methylated form” two or three times a week. 

Old research confirms Asprey's theory

Another piece of research asserts Asprey's theory to some extent. In 2012, researchers enrolled 1,354 participants from all over Australia. People with Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment and normal cognitive function were recruited. The participants were 73.8 years on average with 60 percent of female participants. 

It was found that 10.1 percent of them showed extreme cognitive impairment and people consuming metformin tablets for type 2 diabetes had scored the least on the evaluation of their cognitive skills. Among people with cognitive dysfunction, there were those who had low vitamin B12 levels as well, similar to Asprey's predicament. 

Scientists then suggested supplementation with B12 medication and that doctors should monitor the cognitive function of their patients taking metformin for diabetes. Though this may be true for this study, there are other factors to consider before drawing a conclusion. 

“Population-based studies suggest that the cognitive effect of metformin possibly depends on doses and duration of treatment, and target population as defined by the subtype, stage, and severity of cognitive impairment and dementia as well as APOE gene polymorphism,” reads a study by the University of Coimbra in Portugal.