The diabetes drug metformin may help prolong the lives of millions of people, both with and without diabetes, a large British study has found.
Published in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, the Cardiff University research found that the cheap and widely used medication can help patients with type 2 diabetes live longer than non-diabetics, as well as potentially being able to increase life expectancy in those without the condition.
The large-scale study, involving over 180,000 people, set out to compare the survival of diabetes patients treated with either metformin or sulphonylureas – another common class of diabetes drugs – with non-diabetics who were matched based on criteria that included age, gender, smoking status, clinical status and same general practice. After developing diabetes, life expectancy is known to reduce by an average of around eight years.
Using data from the Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD), which represents around 10% of the UK population, 78,241 patients treated with metformin were identified, along with 12,222 treated with a sulphonylurea, and matched them with 90,463 subjects without diabetes (control group). A total of 7,498 deaths were recorded during the study.
Diabetes is thought to reduce life expectancy by an average of around eight years. However, researchers found that after taking other factors into account, metformin users lived 15% longer (equivalent to an extra three years lifespan) than those in the control group.
“What we found was illuminating,” said lead author Professor Craig Currie, from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine.
“Patients treated with metformin had a small but statistically significant improvement in survival compared with the cohort of non-diabetics, whereas those treated with sulphonylureas had a consistently reduced survival compared with non-diabetic patients. This was true even without any clever statistical manipulation.
“Surprisingly, the findings indicate that this cheap and widely prescribed diabetic drug may have beneficial effects not only on patients with diabetes but also for people without, and interestingly, people with type 1 diabetes.
“This does not mean that people with type 2 diabetes get off Scott free,” he warned. Their disease will progress and they will be typically switched to more aggressive treatments.”
The next step for Prof Currie and his team is to investigate how patients prescribed metformin as a first-line treatment can be treated with the drug thereafter to bring their life expectancy closer in line with the national average.

Get our free newsletters

Stay up to date with the latest news, research and breakthroughs.

You May Also Like

Coronavirus: UK instructed to stay at home this weekend

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said that staying at home this weekend…

Twice daily dairy intakes could reduce type 2 diabetes risk

Eating cheese, yoghurt or eggs twice a day could help lower the…

Public Health England considers low carb approach for type 2 diabetes

The low carb approach is being considered by the government to be…