Even before Ponce de Leon went in search of the legendary Fountain of Youth, men have searched for the secret of life extension and eternal youth. While drinking from or bathing in magical waters may seem a bit bizarre, it is, by far, not the most extreme belief about how to achieve such a desirable end. In past ages, some believed that holding your breath or breathing shallowly could extend the life. Supposedly, you were allotted only so much intake of oxygen in a given lifetime. Ancient Chinese and Japanese believed that eating peaches could endow one with an extended life. And perhaps the most unusual belief, currently espoused by so-called life extension expert Veronica Grey on Hawaii’s North Shore, is the amazing “blink theory.” She believes that if the entire population could blink at the same moment, it would cause a rift in the space/time continuum which would transport everyone to a completely different dimension where they could all possibly live forever. Interestingly, she used this theory to explain the disappearance of entire civilizations in the past. Perhaps Atlanteans are all still alive, young, and healthy somewhere in the universe due to a convenient universal blink.
But could there be some science behind man’s search for the proverbial fountain of youth? Some experts think that there well could be, and one of the most promising drugs involved could be Metformin. Metformin was discovered in 1922 by Emil Warner and James Bell. By 1927 it had been established that the substance was able to reduce blood sugar in laboratory animals. In the 1950’s French physician Jean Sterne conducted human trials, and by 1957 Metformin was being used to treat diabetes type 2 in humans, at least in France. By the following year it was approved for use in Britain, but it was not until 1995 that is was finally approved in the United States.
The FDA recently announced they, for the first time, will be evaluating a drug as an anti-aging drug. That drug is Metformin.
Metformin works by decreasing the level of glucose production while at the same time increasing the body’s sensitivity to insulin, the hormone produced in the pancreas, to operate at maximum efficiency. It decreases the absorption of glucose in the gastrointestinal tract, as well as inhibiting the insulin induced suppression of the oxidation of fatty acids. This means that the body absorbs and stores fewer fats, which are almost always problematic in our diets. Metformin is believed to currently be the most widely used oral medication for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. But, along with the effects in the treatment of that disease in particular, other health benefits have been noted. Patients treated with Metformin have been shown to suffer fewer cardiovascular complications of the disease, as well as cancers, than those not using the drug. Due to these observed benefits, in 2016 studies were underway to ascertain just what effects Metformin could have on the aging process itself.
If one wants to live forever, one of the major impediments we must tackle is cancer, and Metformin may be able to offer protection against what has come to be known as the “Emperor of All Maladies.” Twenty-seven clinical trials, involving 24,000, patients proved the efficacy of Metformin in the fight against cancers of the colon and rectum. Cancer patients using the drug experienced a 42% higher survival rate than those patients not using Metformin. Similar results were observed in patients involved in prostate cancer studies. In recent years, these studies have increased to include cancers of seventeen different body organs, using 21 different species of mice and 4 species of rats. These studies have included spontaneously arising cancers as well as those caused by various chemical carcinogens, viruses, genetic manipulation, ionizing radiation, and high fat diets. A very surprising, and promising, result has been that 86% of these studies have shown that the use of Metformin inhibits or prevents the growth of cancer. Cause for celebration, indeed.
We have seen what Metformin can do against cancer, but what about heart disease, the number one killer. While there are, surely, multiple causes of heart disease, most of this simply comes down to atherosclerosis, also known as “hardening of the arteries.” This condition is caused by the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and the subsequent accumulation of that fat on the walls of the arteries, damaging the walls of these arteries. But Metformin works against this oxidation, thus preventing damage to our delicate arterial system. But the impact of Metformin on our arteries begins even further back.
Metformin can work against the aging process itself by protecting against DNA damage, fighting poor mitochondrial function, aiding in DNA repair, and working to prevent chronic inflammation. Metformin accomplishes many of these tasks by aiding in the production of mTOR and AMPK, longevity-signaling molecules found in each cell which reduce the storage of fats and sugar, and increase youthful functioning at a cellular level. AMPK, for instance, has been shown to have an effect on lifespan. Mice treated with Metformin have an increase in AMPK and show a subsequent rise of 6% of their lifespan. Comparatively treated ringworms show a remarkable 20% increase, although what exactly we need a longer-lived ringworm for is debatable. What is not debatable is that studies have shown that diabetics using Metformin experience a 15% longer life than healthy people not using Metformin. This shows amazing promise for a simple oral drug with so few non-serious side effects, most of which are related to the gastrointestinal tract. Who wouldn’t want to trade an upset tummy for a chance at a longer life?
We may not have found the long sought after Fountain of Youth. Yet. But Metformin is proving more promising than any myth of years past. Some of our best researchers are hard at work on the matter, for there has seldom been a project with more widespread, common interest. With such an impetus to succeed, surely results will be achieved. Some experts believe it is not a question of if, bit when. In that case, your only worry is if you will be one of those who will be around long enough to reap the benefits.