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Everything You Want to Know About Metformin

If you are living with Type 2 Diabetes you have likely been prescribed metformin or at least have been recommended to take it.  Metformin is a medicine that helps your body manage the type 2 diabetes disease better. We can tell you everything you want to know about metformin, an effective and affordable treatment.

What Does Metformin Do?

The first thing you should know is what metformin actually does. Metformin helps restore your body’s natural response to the insulin it produces on its own by decreasing the amount of sugar that your liver makes.  It works by lowering glucose production in the liver and improving your body’s sensitivity to insulin so that your body uses insulin more effectively.

Why Metformin?

Metformin is usually the first route your doctor will recommend when you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  It is safe, affordable and effective at treating the disease with minimal side effects. And combined with proper diet and exercise, it can be an extremely effective way to keep the condition manageable.  It is not a quick fix, and won’t solve your problems overnight, though over time you should find that it is a highly tolerable and works almost miraculously. Metformin interacts with the body in a way that doesn’t stress internal organs, and in fact, may keep other medical issues at bay. 

Side Effects

Metformin can have side effects for some patients, generally mild and related to taking the medication for the first time.  Commonly, these can include nausea, stomach pain, gas, bloating and diarrhea and are generally short-lived. These effects can be minimized by a gradual build up to the full dose of the medicine, starting with a small dose and increasing over the course of a few weeks to the full recommended dosage.  Using the extended release version could also help minimize the gastric side effects of metformin.

More serious side effects are rare and the most serious is lactic acidosis.  A condition resulting from a buildup of lactic acid in the blood. This only occurs if there is a chronic kidney problem that causes too much metformin to amass in the bloodstream.  In some cases, there is also a risk of hypoglycemia, low blood sugar, in patients taking insulin and medicines to increase insulin secretion. Monitoring your blood sugar levels regularly can prevent these low blood sugar episodes.

If you take metformin for a long period of time, there is potential for a vitamin B12 deficiency.  Metformin over time can block the absorption of vitamin B12 and cause anemia. But if this happens you can easily take a B12 supplement or supplement through your diet.  

The Faux Low

Another possible, and sometimes common, side effect is called a “faux low”.  This can be experienced by patients taking metformin for the first time. A faux low happens when your blood sugar drops to a normal range after running high and your body reacts as if in hypoglycemia.  (This can also occur after going on a low-carb diet.) Check your glucose meter and if the low is false, keep taking your metformin as directed. Don’t try to eat foods to bring sugars back up.   

Metformin Benefits

Generally, side effects are mild and short-term so the benefits of metformin far outweigh them.  Most type 2 diabetics handle the medicine well and branded generic forms keep the costs low, plus the medicine is covered by Medicare and most insurance plans.  And a further testament to its effectiveness, metformin is highlighted as an effective treatment by the American Diabetes Association in their standard of care.

While researchers are studying other believed benefits to metformin, such as to help fight cancer, neurodegenerative conditions, weight loss and various other ailments, it has not been proven effective to date, and may be quite a while before it is approved as treatment for anything more than type 2 diabetes.  However, for type 2 diabetics, metformin is a safe, affordable and effective medication for lowering blood-glucose. Helping patients with this condition go on with their life.