In the quest to find the fountain of youth, many people have turned to diets and dietary supplements to boost their bodies’ natural calorie-burning capabilities. Although there are various myths surrounding calorie restriction and weight loss, there is some truth to the theory. When the body is deprived of nutrients, it reacts by breaking down stored body fat and resting muscles in order to fulfill basic needs. Calorie restriction through fasting or taking supplements that increase the body’s energy can help facilitate this process.
For those seeking a more conventional route, medication may be a suitable alternative. One such drug that has recently been shown in clinical trials to increase the bodies’ resting metabolic rate (RMR) is metformin. Does this mean that metformin can help you lose weight? Can a diabetic drug help you shed those extra pounds? Let’s find out.
What Is Metformin?
If you’re not familiar, metformin is a medication used to treat type 2 diabetes. This medication is not directly related to insulin and is instead a biguanidase inhibitor that improves the bodies’ ability to utilize and store nutrients like glucose and fatty acids. In essence, metformin inhibits the bodies’ main sugar-absorbing enzyme, which results in reduced glucose uptake and subsequent decrease in blood sugar levels. What’s more is that metformin doesn’t cause dangerous and severe hypoglycemia like other diabetes medications do. This drug is generally considered safe for use even in those with kidney disease and liver disorders.
How Does It Work?
As previously mentioned, when the body is deprived of nutrients, it will begin breaking down and recycling its own tissue to fulfill its basic needs. To put it simply, when the body is not getting the nutrients it needs, it will use up its energy stores (mostly in the form of glucose) to keep functioning. The theory behind calorie restriction and increasing the bodies’ energy is that the resulting increase in metabolism will help facilitate weight loss. In a similar fashion, metformin increases the body’s RMR and as a result makes the individual more active, which in turn helps promote weight loss. Although it might be tempting to try and diet during or after an episode of hypoglycemia to reduce blood sugar levels, this should not be done as too much restriction can cause the opposite effect and upset your blood sugar levels even more. In this case, it would be better to take a break from dieting and let your body recover instead. When it comes to losing weight, metformin is the medication for you.
Can Metformin Help You Lose Weight?
Let’s examine the evidence and find out. First of all, as previously mentioned, metformin increases the body’s metabolic rate and makes the person using this drug more active. One study showed that participants who were given 500 mg of metformin three times a day for 4 weeks experienced a 6% increase in their basal metabolic rate, compared to a 3% increase in the placebo group.1 Based on this research, it would appear that metformin can help you lose weight. However, keep in mind that this is an in vitro (test tube) study and no clinical trials have been conducted on humans yet to verify these results. Although it is highly likely that short-term use of metformin will increase your body’s basal metabolic rate, more research and clinical trials are needed to prove it. To reiterate, this is an early stage of research and more work needs to be done to establish the true nature of metformin and its effect on caloric consumption and weight loss.
What About Side Effects?
As with any medication, there are certain side effects associated with metformin. These side effects mostly involve the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and include abdominal pain, diarrhea, and nausea. Although these are unpleasant side effects, they are usually not severe. Diabetics who use this medication need to be mindful of these side effects and pay close attention to their GI health. If you experience any of these side effects, discontinue use and consult your doctor immediately.
Aside from GI side effects, there is also the potential for side effects involving the cardiovascular (CV) system. Because metformin inhibits the absorption of nutrients into the blood stream, it is believed that this medication may contribute to heart disease. As a result, metformin has been listed as a category C medication (considered to be harmful) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The concern is that this medication may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke in patients with diabetes. Although clinical trials have not shown that metformin causes heart disease, it cannot be denied that it may contribute to it. Due to this risk, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) does not recommend this drug for use in patients with diabetes or those who are at risk of heart disease.
Are There Any Detriments?
Although there is some evidence that metformin can help you lose weight, there are some downsides to this medication. As discussed, this drug increases your body’s basal metabolic rate and as a result makes you more active. Because of this increased activity level, you may see some benefits from this drug with regards to weight loss, however, other areas of your health may be affected. One such detriment is your bone health. Due to metformin’s ability to increase your basal metabolic rate, it has the potential to speed up the process of bone loss. Diabetics who use this medication need to be mindful of this effect and keep their bones healthy by getting plenty of calcium and vitamin D in their diets. Another adverse effect that has been noted in clinical trials is a possible increase in the risk of developing lactic acidosis, which is an acidic condition that occurs when too much lactic acid builds up in the blood stream. To reiterate, this is an extremely serious condition and the risk of lactic acidosis is generally perceived to be higher in patients with diabetes who use this medication. If you develop any of the symptoms of lactic acidosis, discontinue use of metformin and consult your doctor immediately.
When To Take It?
As the previous sections have hopefully made clear, the ideal time to take metformin is at night, right after your scheduled nightly meal. Doing this will help promote healthy digestion, which in turn can contribute to weight loss. Additionally, it has been noted in clinical trials that the drug can be more effective when taken with food. Due to this, it is advised to take metformin with a meal or beverage, especially if you’re going to be taking the medication for an extended period of time. Another option is to consider splitting up the dosage so that you take it once or twice a day. If you have trouble sleeping at night, taking the medication shortly before bedtime may allow you to get some rest and reduce the chances of waking up in the middle of the night due to pain or discomfort. Keep in mind, though, that due to its mechanism of action, this drug is most effective when used in conjunction with a diet and exercise program. Trying to lose weight with just the medication alone is generally not advised.
In conclusion, although there is limited research on the use of metformin in humans, the results of initial studies are promising. Given its apparent ability to increase the bodies’ calorie-burning capabilities, there is the potential for this drug to be a safe and effective tool for those seeking to lose weight. As previously mentioned, however, more research and clinical trials are needed to establish whether these benefits can be attributed to metformin specifically or whether they can be generalized to other biguanidase inhibitors. It is also essential for diabetics who use this medication to be mindful of its adverse effects on their bone health. Due to its status as a category C drug, diabetics who use this drug need to make sure that they are taking proper care of their bones and monitoring their blood sugar levels regularly. If you’re thinking about trying out metformin to lose weight, make sure to consult your doctor before beginning a new medication regimen. Furthermore, it is advisable to follow the advice of healthcare professionals who have been trained in nutritional and diabetic counseling. Due to its potential risks, metformin should not be used by those who are already at risk of heart disease or those who are not following a healthy diet and lifestyle.