The oral diabetes medicine metformin appears to cause positive changes in the way gut bacteria function, according to a new study out of Denmark. Metformin is the most commonly prescribed diabetes medicine in the world, with over 61 million prescriptions filled in the United States alone in 2012.
Recent research has indicated a link between various health conditions and changes in the makeup and function of the gut microbiome (the collection of roughly 100 trillion organisms living in the human gut). However, these studies did not check for the possible impact of medicines being used to treat the conditions on the gut bacteria. To evaluate the effects of metformin versus the effects of Type 2 diabetes on the microbiome, researchers looked at the intestinal population of 784 people with and without Type 2 diabetes from Denmark, Sweden, and China.
The investigators found that the medicine favorably changed the way the gut bacteria functioned, increasing their ability to create healthful short-chain fatty acids that, in turn, can lower blood sugar levels in a variety of ways. They also discovered that those taking metformin had more coliform bacteria in their intestinal tracts, which may possibly explain the gastrointestinal side effects experienced by some people taking metformin.
“We weren’t able to show that other types of antidiabetic drugs had any actual impact on the gut microbiotia, noted senior study author Oluf Borbye Pedersen, MD, DMSc. “When studying Type 2 diabetes patients not being treated with metformin, we did, however, discover that they — irrespective of whether they were from Denmark, China, or Sweden — had fewer of the bacteria which produce the health-promoting short-chain fatty acids.”
Current research is under way to determine whether lacking certain combinations of fatty-acid producing bacteria is a factor that contributes to the development of Type 2 diabetes, Borbye Pedersen added.
For more information, read the article “Diabetes Drug Improves Gut Bacteria, Study Finds” or see the study’s abstract in the journal Nature. And for more information about metformin, see the article “Metformin: The Unauthorized Biography,” by diabetes educator Wil Dubois.
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Diane Fennell: Diane Fennell has been an editor at Diabetes Self-Management magazine since 2003. She is currently the Editorial Director. (Diane Fennell is not a medical professional.)
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