Metformin is a prescription medication used to lower blood sugar (glucose) levels in people with diabetes.

As a first-line tool in managing type 2 diabetes (T2D), this medication is the most commonly prescribed drug when diet and exercise alone aren’t helping balance glucose levels.

This medication could also have anti-aging capabilities, according to some research.

In addition to lowering blood glucose levels, metformin may slow down aging in the body. Metformin does this by lowering the risk of some diseases and bodily processes that speed up aging and damage the body.

However, metformin is only approved for T2D. Studies on its other potential benefits are ongoing.

Metformin works by improving how the body responds to insulin to burn glucose in the blood as energy. This is important in T2D and gestational diabetes (diabetes during pregnancy).

It’s off-label use includes type 1 diabetes (T1D) as well as reducing symptoms in other conditions that have unbalanced blood glucose levels, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).

The anti-aging effects of metformin are still under investigation.

A 2020 review of research noted that in animal studies, metformin was found to increase life span and delay the onset of declines in health from age.

Other clinical trials suggest metformin may reduce chronic inflammation that increases the risk of age-related conditions, including heart disease and neurodegenerative conditions, that may affect the brain and cognitive (thinking) functions like memory.

Studies that look at how metformin may directly slow down aging investigate the role of this medication in hormesis. In this bodily process, minor stress can help kick off processes and functions inside cells that help repair damage and protect cells.

This can happen with physical activity, fasting, and other methods that put the body under some stress.

According to ongoing research, metformin may cause a hormesis effect by activating an enzyme or chemical called AMP-activated protein kinase. It helps break down extra lipids or fats and sugars in the body.

This metformin-activated hormesis effect essentially sweeps up extra fats and sugars that may become harmful to the body.

Metformin is used off-label for some conditions it’s not officially approved for. For example, doctors may prescribe metformin for PCOS to help balance blood glucose levels or for prediabetes to help prevent T2D.

In a 2017 study on weight gain from the use of some psychiatric medications, researchers suggested the use of metformin to help reduce or prevent excess weight gain.

Researchers in another review suggested metformin may improve chronic inflammation from inflammatory health conditions, such as arthritis and other immune conditions.

Research is ongoing on all off-label uses of metformin. So, it is not yet known how effective metformin is for these uses or what the correct dose would be.

Despite its seemingly many potential benefits, metformin is a potent drug and can cause side effects. This prescription medication should not be taken without a healthcare professional’s guidance.

Side effects of metformin may include:

  • indigestion
  • stomach pain
  • diarrhea
  • gas
  • headache
  • weakness or low energy

In rare cases, metformin can also cause lactic acidosis, a condition when acid builds up in the blood. This can lead to kidney damage and other complications in some people.

Lactic acidosis is a rare complication of metformin. It may develop if other health conditions are present, such as:

  • heart disease
  • severe infection
  • alcohol use disorder

Talk with your healthcare professional before taking metformin to manage your glucose levels or in connection with any other possible benefits it may have.

Metformin is a first-line medication for the management of type 2 diabetes. It’s also used off-label to help balance blood glucose levels in other conditions, such as type 1 diabetes or PCOS.

Research shows metformin may have the ability to slow down aging by reducing inflammation and stimulating the body to repair itself. However, there is not yet clear evidence of this, and research continues.