Metformin is the first-line treatment for most cases of type 2 diabetes and one of the most commonly prescribed medications worldwide, with millions of individuals using it to optimize their blood glucose levels.

A new research study, conducted over six years in the Sydney Memory and Ageing Study in 1037 Australians (aged 70 to 90 years old at baseline), has revealed an additional effect: individuals with type 2  who used metformin experienced slower cognitive decline with lower  rates than those who did not use the medication.

The findings provide new hope for a means of reducing the risk of dementia in individuals with type 2 diabetes, and potentially those without diabetes who number nearly 47 million people worldwide.

The study was led by researchers at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing (CHeBA), UNSW Sydney, and published in the Journal Diabetes Care.

“We’ve revealed the promising new potential for a safe and widely used medication, which could be life-changing for patients at risk of dementia and their families. For those with type 2 diabetes, metformin may add something extra to standard glucose lowering in diabetes care: a benefit for cognitive health,” says first author Professor Katherine Samaras, Leader of the Healthy Ageing Research Theme at the Garvan Institute and endocrinologist at St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney.

Protecting brain function

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can no longer produce enough insulin to meet its needs, leaving affected individuals unable to maintain  within a normal range. This can lead to long-term health complications, including cognitive decline.

“As they age, people living with type 2 diabetes have a staggering 60% risk of developing dementia, a devastating condition that impacts thinking, behavior, the ability to perform everyday tasks and the ability to maintain independence. This has immense personal, family, economic and societal impacts,” says Professor Samaras.

The researchers of this study investigated data from participants of CHeBA’s Sydney Memory and Ageing Study. In this cohort, 123 study participants had type 2 diabetes, and 67 received metformin to lower blood sugar levels. The researchers tested cognitive function every two years, using detailed assessments that measured cognition over a number of capabilities, including memory, executive function, attention and speed, and language.

The findings revealed individuals with type 2 diabetes taking metformin had significantly slower cognitive decline and lower dementia risk compared to those not taking metformin. Remarkably, in those with type 2 diabetes taking metformin, there was no difference in the rate of decline in cognitive function over 6 years compared to those without diabetes.

New use for a common medication

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