Can the Miracle Drug Metformin Also Help You Lose Weight?
By Arvind Sommi
Metformin is the world’s most common diabetes medication and can improve diabetes management. Research suggests that metformin might lead to weight loss in certain people – read more to learn about this common claim.
Metformin is one of the first treatment options considered for people with type 2 diabetes to help manage glucose levels. Although it is not a weight loss drug, there is research suggesting it may lead to modest weight reductions.
Metformin and weight loss
In a small, 24-week study in 1998, people with diabetes who were treated with metformin experienced up to 8 kg (roughly 18 lbs) of weight loss due to decreased calorie intake. In a much larger trial in over 4,000 people with type 2 diabetes, it was found metformin use was associated with a 2.4 kg (roughly 5.3 lbs) weight loss over a four-year period.
There are a few ways that metformin might impact weight. One is that the medication can reduce your appetite. This is because metformin increases the body’s sensitivity to hormones such as insulin and leptin. Leptin is in charge of telling your body when it is full and should stop eating, so increased sensitivity to this hormone can result in you feeling less hungry.
Additionally, research suggests that metformin may increase secretion of the GLP-1 hormone, which suppresses appetite and can cause weight loss. In fact, a GLP-1 receptor agonist medication that targets this hormone specifically, semaglutide (Wegovy), is currently FDA approved to treat obesity as well as type 2 diabetes.
Metformin may also reduce weight by decreasing the amount of visceral fat in the liver and muscle tissue. Visceral fat is stored within the abdominal cavity, which contains several internal organs, including the liver, stomach, and intestines. It can also build up in muscles including the heart muscle. Visceral fat is considered more dangerous than subcutaneous fat because it is associated with an increased risk of various health conditions, such as heart disease.
Weight loss as a side effect?
Metformin is generally safe, but common side effects do include vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. Those experiencing these unpleasant side effects might consume less food, resulting in modest weight reductions.
Off-label use of metformin for weight loss
Due to metformin’s inconsistent weight loss effects, the FDA has not approved the use of metformin as a stand-alone therapy for weight reduction. However, doctors may still prescribe it off-label if they believe it could be helpful. Off-label use of metformin is also more common in patients at high risk for metabolic complications such as those who have prediabetes.
Best ways to lose weight
Metformin is a generic and accessible drug that significantly lowers blood glucose, but it is not a weight loss drug. That said, weight management is still very important when managing your diabetes to reduce your risk for complications and improve your overall health and well-being. To learn more about how you can harness the benefits of nutrition, exercise, goal setting, and a support network, read our article, “How to Lose Weight and Keep it Off.”