Metformin Wonder Drug Headlines

What’s with all this wonder drug talk about metformin? It’s already deemed one of the most essential drugs for Metformin Moleculediabetes treatment. Now a new study of mortality in people with type 2 diabetes is generating headlines about metformin helping people live longer — perhaps even people who don’t have diabetes.

The investigators seem to be encouraging these hyperbolic headlines. Though they designed the study to look at survival differences between patients treated with metformin or sulfonylurea drugs, they also included a matched control group of patients who received neither of the treatments and did not have diabetes. Note that the study is retrospective.

They concluded:

Patients with type 2 diabetes initiated with metformin monotherapy had longer survival than did matched, non-diabetic controls. Those treated with sulphonylurea had markedly reduced survival compared with both matched controls and those receiving metformin monotherapy. This supports the position of metformin as first-line therapy and implies that metformin may confer benefit in non-diabetics.

Metformin is indeed a good treatment for type 2 diabetes. It even appears to have benefits for preventing diabetes in people who meet criteria for prediabetes.

But the headlines are wrong and the investigators were wrong to encourage them. This trial provides no evidence that metformin would benefit people without diabetes. To the contrary, another study (the CAMERA study) recently found no benefit from metformin for non-diabetic patients with coronary heart disease. And it was a randomized, controlled trial.

So it’s not time to put metformin in the drinking water. And the hyperbolic headlines went a little too far.

“All news is an exaggeration of life.” — Daniel Schorr

Click here to read more about the study and here to read the study itself. Click here to read the publication of the CAMERA study.

Eureka, photograph © Charlie Day / flickr

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