Metformin is a medication prescribed for insulin resistance. It’s approved by the FDA to treat diabetes, and has an orphan approval for the treatment of insulin resistance associated with PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome. But many have wondered: is metformin safe to use?
Insulin resistance affects as many as one in three people. This condition is a stepping stone to metabolic syndrome, which includes obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Metformin is not meant to be used alone. It’s used in conjunction with weight loss measures including diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes designed to improve glycemic or blood sugar control. Metformin is taken with meals to provide the best glycemic control.
So What Does Metformin Do?
Metformin works to lower blood glucose by decreasing the liver’s production of glucose and the gut’s absorption of glucose, and increasing cell insulin sensitivity.
At the molecular level, metformin works differently according to the dose and duration of treatment. Metformin has been shown to act via both AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK)-dependent and AMPK-independent mechanisms.
Our bodies produce AMP, or adenosine monophosphate, in the process of creating adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the major source of cell energy.
AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is an energy sensor that regulates all aspects of cell function. The AMPK cascade also regulates food intake and energy expenditure at the whole body level, by mediating the effects of hormones and cytokines such as leptin, adiponectin and ghrelin.
What are the Side Effects of Metformin?
Lactic acidosis is a rare but serious side effect that can occur due to a buildup of metformin in your body. Signs of lactic acidosis are: extreme tiredness, weakness, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, trouble breathing, dizziness or lightheadedness, a fast or slow heart rate, feeling cold, muscle pain, flushing or sudden reddening and warmth in your skin, stomach pain with any of these other symptoms. Lactic acidosis is a medical emergency that must be treated in the hospital.
If your kidneys don’t work well, you’ll have higher levels of metformin in your system. This raises your risk of lactic acidosis. If you have acute heart failure, or recently have had a heart attack, you should not take metformin. Your heart may not send enough blood to your kidneys. This would prevent your kidneys from removing metformin from your body, increasing your risk of lactic acidosis.
You should not take metformin if you have severe liver problems. Your liver clears lactic acid from your body. Severe liver problems could lead to a buildup of lactic acid, which raises your risk of lactic acidosis, even without taking metformin. Metformin can also cause hepatotoxicity or liver damage, so it’s important before starting metformin to have a blood test to ensure your kidney and liver are functioning normally. You will need to have the blood test repeated while taking metformin.
The more common side effects of metformin are mostly gastrointestinal, including: heartburn, nausea, vomiting, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. Metformin can also cause headaches and a metallic taste in your mouth.Metformin can also cause anemia by decreasing vitamin B12 in your body.
Metformin can cause hypoglycemia if you have a poor diet, consume excessive amounts of alcohol, take other diabetes medications, or engage in very strenuous exercise.
While metformin is very effective at lowering blood sugar, it does have significant side effects and cannot be taken if you have liver disease, kidney dysfunction, or acute heart failure.
So to answer the question, is metformin safe to take, the answer is: it depends. Depending on your current state of health, it has the potential to be very harmful to your body. But if you do not have any preexisting risk factors, metformin can be very helpful in lowering blood sugar.
We talk a lot about how to reverse insulin resistance in our Hormone Support Group, which you can access through our free Hormone Reboot Training. I hope you’ll join us.