Did you know that metformin and weight loss are closely related?
I will explain what metformin is and what its side effects might be. I will also answer the million dollar question, can it help people lose weight?
What Is Metformin?
Almost a hundred years ago it was discovered that meformin reduces blood sugar levels, although it wasn’t until the last few decades that it really became popular in treating patients suffering from diabetes. Metformin is now the best and most popular drug in the world for treating type 2 diabetes, especially for obese and overweight persons with normally functioning kidneys.
It is sold under many different trade names – including Glucophage, Carbophage and Gluformin – and it is orally administered either as tablets or in the form of liquid. Tablets are available in three different versions:
- Slow release (SR)
- Immediate release (IR)
- Extended release (XR)
SR and XR was developed to milden side effects, while maintaining the effectiveness of the IR. The tablets are for sale in different strengths, from 500 mg to 1000 mg, and they consist of metformin hydrochloride (also called metformin HCl).
The short explanation of how this drug works is this: Metformin hydrochloride reduces the liver’s production of glucose (by roughly a third), which then lowers the level of blood sugar in the body.
A longer explanation would also include metformin’s ability to decrease the oxidation of fatty acids, increase insulin sensitivity which will make you feel less hungry, as well as several other positive effects. It would really take an entire article (or even more) to describe all the different aspects of how it works. I just prefer to think of it as a lowered glucose production in the liver.
Metformin And Weight Loss
Time for the million dollar question. Can treatment with metformin help people lose weight? Short answer is, yes it can!
It’s ability to lower blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels has been scientifically proven, so using metformin HCl tablets is a good start for someone looking to lose excess weight. Please note that I wrote “good start”. You will NOT lose weight if the only change you make is to take this drug.
It is necessary to eat healthier foods as well as exercise regularly. Because at the end of the day, it is calories consumed versus calories expended that ultimately determines whether you will lose or gain weight.
The use of metformin for weight loss can for sure be an effective method if you do it right, and here is what we would suggest: Start by consulting your medical doctor. He or she will tell if it’s something for you to try.
If it is, the next step (apart from starting to use the drug) is setting up a nutritious and well-balanced diet that is low on fat and carbohydrates, and high on proteins, vitamins, fibers and dietary minerals. The key here is well-balanced, not starvation. Drastically changing your diet can be somewhat of a shock at first, but if you stick to it for a few weeks you will notice very positive changes both physically and mentally. You will feel happier, lighter and have more energy.
Once you have reached this state of well-being, it is time to start with some light exercise.
Long walks are perfect for losing weight, especially for people not used to physical training. You should walk for at least one hour at a time, since the actual fat burning only starts after approximately 40 minutes of heightened heart rate. So every minute after the 40th counts.
The goal is to take such a walk once every day while following the healthy diet you set up earlier, and to use metformin (for as long as your doctor finds it necessary). For most obese people this will be more than enough to reach their goal weight, but if it isn’t, it is now time to consult a personal trainer.
The trainer will help you set up a personalized exercise program that will speed up the weight loss process. It will cost blood, sweat and tears (and money), but it will be totally worth it. Improved health and physical abilities, and stronger self-confidence are common results from following such exercise programs for extended periods of time. Weight loss is just a bonus.
In summary: Metformin weight loss can absolutely be achieved, but it takes more than just the drug, it takes exercise and a sound diet as well.
Potential Side Effects
The most common side effects of metformin are related to the stomach and the intestines. Vomiting, diarrhea, flatulence and nausea can be experienced before the body has adjusted to the use of this antidiabetic drug, while it is fairly uncommon after prolonged use. What can get affected after long periods of use though, is the absorbance of vitamin B12 and the homocysteine levels.
A more serious side effect is lactic acidosis, although not many patients suffer from it since the incidence rate is very low (incidence = risk of getting the disease/condition). Those who do experience lactic acidosis during metformin treatment, seem to have other complications that cause it, suggesting that metformin is not to be blamed.
Following the metformin dosage prescribed by your doctor is very important (as with all drugs and pharmaceuticals!). Symptoms of overdose include abdominal pains, diarrhea, and both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia. Although relatively harmless, occasional deaths do happen, so follow the recommended dosage religiously and make sure it is stored safely away from children.
On a side note, people suffering from hypothyroidism could experience adverse effects from the use of metformin hydrochloride, due to lower levels of thyroid hormones. This has not been fully proven though, but should definitely be worth considering.
Metformin And PCOS
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder that causes low fertility in women. It is also related to obesity and diabetes, and that is why metformin hydrochloride has been proposed as treatment. Early studies showed some very promising results, while later studies could not find any positive effects.
Since then, more clinical studies have been conducted. The results are contradictory. From almost no effect, to very positive effects. As the situation is right now, we can’t give any recommendations regarding metformin and PCOS, but check with your doctor for the latest scientific reviews.
In this post we explained how the use of metformin and weight loss can be closely correlated. But I would like to stress once again that without the proper diet and some sort of regular exercise, successful weight loss will not be achieved, even with the use of drugs and pharmaceuticals. So if you only remember one thing from this post, please remember that. Thank you!