A commonly prescribed type 2 diabetes drug could help alleviate harmful side effects associated with the use of steroids.
High blood sugar levels, loss of bone and muscle mass, and increased risk of infection are some of the side effects associated with the group of steroids glucocorticoids. Long-term use can also be linked to the serious, and potentially fatal Cushing’s syndrome.
The new findings suggest that when metformin, a drug commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes, is used alongside glucocorticoid treatment it could reduce the harmful side effects of the steroid.
The team from the Queen Mary University of London carried out a clinical trial with 50 people. All trial participants were already taking glucocorticoids and were not diagnosed with diabetes.
Half of the group were given metformin in addition to their regular drugs, and the other half were given a placebo.
Findings revealed that those treated with metformin experienced a 30% drop in infection rates and hospital visits. Metformin also helped improve markers related to cardiovascular, metabolic and bone health.
This particular group of steroids in question, glucocorticoids, are used to treat conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and other types of chronic inflammatory diseases.
Marta Korbonits, professor of endocrinology at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry at Queen Mary, said: “Our findings are strikingly positive and suggest that a simple and immediately available intervention, treatment with the diabetes drug metformin, can improve the clinical status of patients on glucocorticoid treatment, even if they do not have diabetes.
“Whilst developed countries may be increasing the use of biologics or other steroid-sparing agents, in many other parts of the world, there’s still a heavy reliance on glucocorticoids.
“Therefore, doctors and patients have been waiting for a safe, cheap and effective treatment that can prevent the major metabolic complications of these medicines, but does not affect, or could even improve, their anti-inflammatory properties. Our results suggest metformin has the potential to help these patients.”
The findings have been published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal.