- Metformin is a drug commonly prescribed to type two diabetics.
- Emerging research suggests it may help to slow or reverse visible signs of aging.
- It has not been approved by the FDA as an anti-aging treatment.
- Proven anti-aging alternatives include skincare formulations containing vitamin C and hyaluronic acid, and dermal fillers.
Imagine if there was a pill that could successfully target aging. While this might seem as unlikely as encountering the mythical fountain of youth, such a pill may, in fact, already exist. Metformin has been clinically recognized to reduce aging processes within the body, and may also offer anti-aging benefits for the skin.
What Is Metformin?
Metformin was developed as a type two diabetes drug and has been commonly prescribed in the U.S. for the treatment of the condition since 1995. It is a drug that is known as a biguanide, which works in two fundamental ways. It activates the AMPK enzyme, which allows cells to respond more effectively to insulin and absorb glucose from the blood.
Why Is Metformin Believed to Work As an Anti-aging Drug?
There is compelling research to indicate that Metformin may offer benefits for other therapeutic applications, in addition to diabetes. “There are theories formulated by researchers in which the anti-inflammatory effects of Metformin can be combined with healthy activities to synergistically impact aging,” states dermatologist Dr. Jeanine Downie.
For example, one of the central mechanisms by which Metformin works is via its activation of the AMPK enzyme, which declines among older adults. When AMPK signaling is boosted, the body reaps a range of benefits, such as:
- More efficient energy production
- Homeostasis, or balance, in the body
- Enhanced stress resistance
- Improved maintenance of cells
- Suppressed inflammatory responses
- Improved metabolic regulation
These outcomes have significant consequences for healthspan and general wellbeing. They may also help to prevent or reduce the incidence of age-related diseases such as heart disease, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. Pre-clinical trials using animals have also shown that Metformin increases life expectancy.
How Can Metformin Reverse Signs of Aging?
One of the leading causes of aging is the cumulative effects of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when the body has trouble fighting off free radicals, which are caused by alcohol consumption, poor diet, stress levels and exposure to pollution.
Oxidative stress results in damage to the skin. Over time, fine lines and wrinkles, loss of elasticity and a dull complexion begin to appear. AMPK can help to reduce the effects of oxidative stress. What’s more, it may also slow cellular senescence (cellular aging) and DNA damage and mutations to improve overall tissue health. The powerful AMPK enzyme additionally suppresses inflammatory responses, which reduces redness, heat and swelling in the skin tissue.
Is There Any Evidence that Metformin Can Treat Aging Skin?
Some studies have indicated Metformin may represent an effective anti-aging treatment for non-diabetic patients.
One noteworthy 2016 study reviewed Metformin’s dermatological applications. The study examined existing research and concluded that Metformin could offer an effective treatment for a range of skin conditions as varied as psoriasis, acne, specific skin cancers and hyperpigmentation. In the hyperpigmentation cases, Metformin was only effective when applied topically, rather than ingested orally.
In a 2017 study, researchers found that Metformin alleviated the physical signs of aging in patients with Hutchinson–Gilford progeria syndrome (HGPS). This syndrome is characterized by premature aging beginning in childhood, and severe age-related complications leading to death.
The researchers found that Metformin delayed cellular aging and decreased reactive oxygen species (ROS) in dermal cells, which contribute to aging. Furthermore, the study noted that mice supplemented with Metformin experienced an increased expression of the antioxidant enzyme. Antioxidants are critical to fighting off free radicals, which contribute to aging.
Dr. Downie does point out, however, that research into Metformin as an anti-aging drug is still in its infancy. “There have not been studies directly linking the medication and its anti-aging benefits,” she stresses.”The benefits at this time are largely theoretical and based on the understanding of the medication’s method of action. I would only advise it if a patient’s primary care provider prescribed it to them for their elevated glucose or diabetic state.”
Risks and Side Effects of Metformin Usage
There is still a great deal that researchers don’t know about Metformin. For example, many would assume that Metformin combined with exercise may further boost its anti-aging properties. Research suggests otherwise, however. Metformin may, in fact, blunt the benefits of exercise by affecting respiration in cellular mitochondria. In addition, Metformin appears to cause a spectrum of responses among individual patients: some enjoy excellent results, while others experience little benefit.
Metformin can also provoke potential side effects, whether used by diabetic patients or off label. “The most common side effect is upset stomach giving rise to diarrhea, constipation or indigestion. Serious reactions include lactic acidosis, megaloblastic anemia, and hepatotoxicity,” cautions Dr. Downie.
Where Can I Get Metformin?
Metformin is currently a prescription-only medication for diabetes patients. In late 2019, the first randomized controlled human trial of Metformin for anti-aging, named Targeting Aging with Metformin (TAME), is due to begin. The study will follow 3,000 adults without diabetes over four years, tracking the effects of Metformin on diverse aspects of aging.
The outcome of this trial may influence the FDA’s decision about whether Metformin should be additionally indicated as a treatment for aging. Some physicians may currently prescribe it off-label for its anti-aging benefits.
Anti-aging Alternatives to Metformin
High quality skincare products and treatments can help to minimize or postpone the signs of aging in other ways. Some evidence-based options include:
- Skincare products containing vitamin C:
Vitamin C has several anti-aging mechanisms including reducing oxidative stress, assisting with collagen synthesis and evening out skin tone.
- Skin care products containing hyaluronic acid (HA):
Hyaluronic acid is found naturally in the skin, helping it appear hydrated and plump. As we age, our hyaluronic acid reserves decrease. HA skincare products can supplement that loss, hydrating the skin, softening wrinkles, and enhancing skin elasticity and firmness.
Dermal fillers are comprised of synthetic or natural compounds that are injected into the skin. They add volume to the skin, firming and filling it out in places where there are depressions, sunken hollows or fine lines. Plumper looking-skin is more youthful-looking skin.
While there is evidence to suggest that Metformin may be an effective anti-aging treatment, at present, more research is required to substantiate this application of the drug. In the meantime, Dr. Downie advises other tried and tested anti-aging protocols.
“Preserve the skin with anti-aging products containing ingredients like growth factors, antioxidants and neurotoxins to inhibit wrinkling. Replenish the skin with volumizers like dermal fillers and resurface the skin with chemical peels and laser ablation therapies.”
- Liguori, I., Russo, G., Curcio, F., Bulli, G., Aran, L., Della-Morte, D., … Abete, P. (2018). Oxidative stress, aging, and diseases. Clinical interventions in aging, 13, 757–772. doi:10.2147/CIA.S158513
- Bubna A. K. (2016). Metformin – For the dermatologist. Indian journal of pharmacology, 48(1), 4–10. doi:10.4103/0253-7613.174388
- Park, S‐K, Shin, OS. Metformin alleviates ageing cellular phenotypes in Hutchinson–Gilford progeria syndrome dermal fibroblasts. Exp Dermatol. 2017; 26: 889– 895. https://doi.org/10.1111/exd.13323
- Konopka, AR, Laurin, JL, Schoenberg, HM, et al. Metformin inhibits mitochondrial adaptations to aerobic exercise training in older adults. Aging Cell. 2019; 18:e12880. https://doi.org/10.1111/acel.12880
- Telang P. S. (2013). Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian dermatology online journal, 4(2), 143–146. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.110593
- Pavicic T, Gauglitz GG, Lersch P, Schwach-Abdellaoui K, Malle B, Korting HC, Farwick M. Efficacy of cream-based novel formulations of hyaluronic acid of different molecular weights in anti-wrinkle treatment. J Drugs Dermatol. 2011 Sep;10(9):990-1000. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22052267
- I. Sánchez-Carpintero, D. Candelas, R. Ruiz-Rodríguez. Dermal Fillers: Types, Indications, and Complications. Actas Dermo-Sifiliográficas (English Edition), Volume 101, Issue 5, 2010, Pages 381-393, ISSN 1578-2190. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1578-2190(10)70660-0