Metformin-takers tended to be healthier in all sorts of ways. They lived longer and had fewer cardiovascular events, and in at least some studies they were less likely to suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s. Most surprising of all, they seemed to get cancer far less frequently—as much as 25 to 40 percent less than diabetics taking two other popular medications. When they did get cancer, they tended to outlive diabetics with cancer who were taking other medications.
Lewis Cantley, the director of the Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine, once put it, “Metformin may have already saved more people from cancer deaths than any drug in history.” Nobel laureate James Watson (of DNA-structure fame), who takes metformin off-label for cancer prevention, once suggested that the drug appeared to be “our only real clue into the business” of fighting the disease.
Metformin is from an ancient herb and the herb has been prescribed since medieval times. Metformin can cost 5 cents per pill.
Metformin is already prescribed off-label to treat obesity, polycystic ovarian syndrome, infertility, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and acne.
Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, like most in his field, was aware of the good news about metformin that had been trickling out year after year.
Barzilai is confident that metformin is good enough to be the first treatment approved by the FDA to counter aging. He has maintained this confidence ever since he read a 2014 study that reviewed the fate of 90,400 type 2 diabetics taking either metformin or another medication. The metformin patients in the study not only outlived the diabetics taking the other drug—a not especially surprising result if metformin is a superior treatment—but also outlived the nondiabetics studied as a comparison.
The FDA will not make its decision on whether metformin becomes the US’s first antiaging drug until the study, dubbed Targeting Aging with Metformin (TAME for short)