A new study has found that treatment with the type 2 diabetes drug metformin improves health and extends the life of male mice.
The widely used diabetes medication appears to mimic the effects of extreme calorie restrictio, such as reducing cholesterol levels and increasing expression of certain genes, according to an international team of scientists led by researchers at the America’s National Institute on Aging (NIA).
For their study, the team tested two different doses of metformin on middle-aged male mice.
They found that those given a lower dose (0.1% metformin) had a 5.8% increase in lifespan by 5.8% as well as a delayed onset of age-associated diseases, compared to mice on a standard diet with no metformin (control group). They also had better general fitness and weighed less than the control group, despite consuming more calories.
But the higher 1% dose of the drug was found to be toxic and reduced the animals’ lifespan by 14.4% compared to the control group.
The authors, led by Rafael de Cabo, of the NIA’s Intramural Research Program, said the overall results of metformin use were “very promising” but cautioned that further clinical studies are needed to determine the implications of metformin for healthy aging in humans.
Commenting on the findings, Professor Tom Kirkwood, associate dean for ageing at Newcastle University, said: “We’ve known for a long time that modulating metabolism in mice can extend survival and postpone age-related conditions, and there are sound reasons why this should be the case is a small, short-lived animal.
“What we don’t know however is whether similar effects on lifespan might be produced in humans. This is something that we cannot simply take for granted and the study’s authors do well to sound a note of caution.”
Metformin is prescribed as the first-line drug treatment of type 2 diabetes and is also used to treat people with metabolic syndromen, a condition characterised by the combination of obesity, insulin resistance or glucose intolerance and high blood pressure.

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