New research out of Tulane University seems to suggest that metformin could be a tool to help combat Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and dementia.
Researchers found that those taking metformin for two years or more enjoyed a substantial reduction in the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, according to PhD candidate Qian Shi. Based on these findings, it’s possible that prolonged use of metformin could potentially protect the neurons in the brain from degradation, said Shi, a research assistant at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, who was speaking at the 2016 ADA Scientific Sessions.
In a series of studies, Shi and others examined data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to compare neurodegenerative disease rates among metformin users and those not taking metformin. In the final study, 6,046 patients receiving treatment were followed from diagnosis until death or the conclusion of the study. Overall, participants were studied for an average of 5.25 years.
For those not taking metformin, the reported incidence of developing a neurodegenerative disease was 2.08 per 100 individuals. That rate plummeted for metformin users – those on metformin for two to four years had a diagnosis rate of just 1.30 per 100, and those taking it for four years or more had a diagnosis rate of just .49 per 100. The precise reasons metformin could protect the brain remain unclear, but researchers do know the drug is capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier.
While this sounds like great news, it may be too early to administer metformin to all older Americans just yet. For one thing, some 90 percent of the patients tracked for this study were men. Also, previous research on metformin and neurodegenerative diseases has been conflicting. In 2015, a study did find metformin lowered the risk of dementia by 20 percent. However, metformin also has been linked to a vitamin B12 deficiency, which could lead to cognitive decline if untreated. And a 2012 study found that the drug might actually increase the patient’s risk for Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Shi concluded her presentation by explaining that a larger, more comprehensive study would be necessary to establish a definitive link between metformin use and the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.