Weight Loss or Gain on Metformin

Metformin is a drug primarily prescribed to patients with Type 2 diabetes to help control blood sugar. This drug has been studied to determine its safety and effectiveness for weight loss in nondiabetic patients. Doctors have prescribed metformin for a variety of alternative uses; talk to your doctor to determine whether this medication is right for you.

Diabetics may be concerned about the way medication impacts their weight. (Image: Karl Tapales/Moment/GettyImages)

How Metformin Works

Metformin controls the amount of sugar, also known as glucose, in your blood, by decreasing the amount of glucose your liver makes and reducing the amount of glucose your body absorbs from the foods you eat. Additionally, metformin improves how the body responds to insulin, the body's natural control factor for glucose regulation in the bloodstream.

Side Effects of Metformin

Metformin has minimal adverse side effects when taken as directed. The most common is gastrointestinal upset that may lead to nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. Some patients also experience side effects similar to hypoglycemia, which should be discussed with a doctor immediately.

Patients on metformin often experience the added benefit of weight maintenance or weight loss. This side effect can be attributed to the primary function of this drug, which is to help the body monitor blood glucose and insulin levels, two factors that play a significant role in weight management.

Metformin for Weight Loss

Currently, doctors are not prescribing metformin to patients who are simply looking to lose weight. Aside from the discomfort of the initial side effects, metformin is only safe and effective for individuals who are overweight or obese and suffering from impaired insulin secretion.

A 2001 study by the New York Medical College found that nondiabetic women who gained weight midlife and had excess insulin benefited from a daily dose of metformin coupled with a low calorie, low carbohydrate diet. Of these patients, 89 percent of those who continued to take metformin after the study maintained their weight loss. Of those who discontinued the drug, 83 percent gained weight.

Precautions When Taking Metformin

Since metformin acts on your blood glucose levels, tell your doctor of any changes to your diet or physical activity level. Metformin does have several contraindications, so tell your doctor about any illnesses or medications and supplements that you are taking.

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