There’s a new drug on the market called metformin, which is an extract of French lilac (Galega officials) that’s been attracting a lot of attention lately within the cancer community. Researchers say that it’s a natural fighting compound against disease.
It might surprise most of you to learn that metformin is a prescription medication that’s generally used to help manage diabetes. It’s a medication that was developed over 50 years ago and is often used to combat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It also supports cardiovascular health and promotes weight loss/maintenance in those with blood sugar abnormalities and metabolic disorders.
It’s estimated that over 35,000,000 prescriptions for metformin were written in 2008 alone. This figure is likely to increase in the future for a few very important reasons. It’s cheaper and more effective than many of the newer medications in its class, and this is one drug that may actually help save lives.
Pancreatic cancer is number four on this list of most deadly cancers. This year alone, over 35,000 Americans will lose their battle with this malignancy. Diabetics have an increased risk of contracting this form of cancer, but new data from the prestigious M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is pointing to a potential preventive effect afforded by an old reliable drug.
A 4 year population study of over 1,800 participants (973 with pancreatic adenocarcinoma and 863 without) found that diabetics who were using metformin exhibited a 62% reduced risk of pancreatic cancer.
Two significant factors were noted: 1) Those also using insulin and other anti-diabetic medications (without metformin) actually had a dramatic increase in pancreatic cancer risk; 2) Exercising, controlling blood sugar, dieting and quitting smoking did not seem to improve the benefits of metformin.
This isn’t the first time that metformin has been associated with a reduced incidence of tumors. A study published in the July edition of the journal Diabetologia found that the use of insulin and sulfonylureas (another variety of anti-diabetic medications) resulted in an increased risk of solid tumors (colorectal and pancreatic). On the other hand, adding metformin to either of these treatments “reduced progression to cancer”. A similar pattern appears to be present when looking at diabetic patients with liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma).
The June 2009 issue of Diabetes Care also reports on the rate of cancer in a group of 8,000+ type 2 diabetics. Over the course 9 years, approximately 7% of those using metformin developed cancer. Over 11% of those not using this medication were diagnosed with malignancies.