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'Often prescribed by doctors': Nutritionist explained if popular drug is effective for weight loss

'Often prescribed by doctors': Nutritionist explained if popular drug is effective for weight loss Is metformin effective for weight loss (illustrative photo: Freepik)

Some people who struggle to lose weight through diet or exercise turn to the use of medical treatments. One such remedy is metformin - a medication for type 2 diabetes. However, sometimes it is taken by overweight individuals who do not have diabetes.

The effectiveness of this medication for weight loss is explained by dietitian Oleh Shvets.

How metformin affects weight loss

"After being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, family doctors and endocrinologists most often recommend metformin as the first medication. Research results show that it helps control blood sugar levels by improving the body's use of its own insulin," says the doctor.

Scientists also confirm that many people who take this medication lose weight. However, metformin is not officially approved as a weight loss drug as it does not provide the level of weight loss that corresponds to this indication. Nevertheless, many doctors prescribe it for this purpose, that is, off-label.

"Metformin is not a magic weight loss pill, but it can help shed some weight and prevent further gain. Although it probably won't have the same effect as medications like semaglutide (Ozempic, Wegovy) or tirzepatide (Mounjaro, Zepbound), which are used for weight loss for direct indications," emphasizes Shvets.

In a study involving over 3000 individuals, the average weight loss for those taking metformin was 2.5 kilograms. About a third lost at least 5% of their body weight within a year. And the longer they took the medication, the better the results, with an average long-term weight loss of 6.2%.

"The effects of metformin on weight reduction continue to be studied. But it is already known that the medication itself may have limited positive effects only when taken. After discontinuing its use, without adhering to a hypocaloric diet along with physical activity, weight almost always returns to baseline levels," says the dietitian.

Who can be prescribed this medication

Most recommendations for taking metformin apply to people with type 2 diabetes. Weight loss may slow the progression of this disease.

Among those who may be prescribed metformin to improve metabolic parameters are:

  • people who are obese
  • people with insulin resistance
  • people taking antipsychotic medications

Who should not take metformin

This medication should only be prescribed by a doctor; it should not be taken without supervision.

"Metformin is not recommended for people with uncontrolled diabetes, allergies to this medication, serious infection, heart failure, respiratory or circulatory problems, as well as those who have recently had a heart attack or consume alcohol frequently and in large quantities," warns the doctor.

In cases of serious kidney disease, the doctor may also not recommend metformin. However, in early-stage kidney disease, metformin may be taken if the doctor considers it the optimal medication in this situation.

"Previously, doctors did not prescribe metformin to people with congestive heart failure or chronic liver disease. Now experts believe that some people with these conditions may take metformin if they are carefully monitored to avoid complications," says Shvets.

It is important for the doctor to know about all the medications the patient is taking. Metformin may interact with other medications.