Understanding Metformin for Weight Loss: What It Is, How It Works, and Whether You Should Take It

metformin for weight loss

An estimated 37.3 million people in the US have diabetes, and up to 95% of this number are classified as having type 2 diabetes. Western diets are partially to blame for this, as they are notorious for including foods that are highly processed and contain large amounts of high-fructose corn syrup and artificial trans fats.

This deadly combination is commonly found in fast food and junk food, which make up the bulk of nearly 50% of Americans’ diets. Aside from the havoc, these foods wreak on your overall nutrition and have also been linked to inflammation and an increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and insulin resistance.

What is Metformin?

The treatment of type 2 diabetes often begins with a prescription for Metformin, an FDA-approved, generic medication that enhances how your body responds to insulin to reduce high blood sugar levels.

More specifically, Professor Manuel Vasquez-Carrera, from the Faculty of Pharmacy and Food Sciences of the University of Barcelona, says that Metformin is a drug that is orally administered to reduce the contribution of glucose in the blood and improve its peripheral circulation in order to counteract insulin resistance. Although Metformin is only approved for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, some doctors use it off-label for weight loss and weight-related conditions.

How does it work for weight loss?

Some researchers suggest that Metformin for weight loss shares a resemblance with semaglutide and liraglutide because Metformin may increase the secretion of the gut hormone, GLP-1. However, because semaglutide and liraglutide medications have been more clinically effective due to their mechanisms that mimic the GLP-1 hormone, Metformin is not necessarily a replacement for medications like Wegovy, Saxenda, or Ozempic. Although it’s not as powerful as GLP-1 medications that specifically target the gut hormone, Metformin is generally more affordable for cash-paying patients at less than $30 per month.

A 24-week study revealed that people with diabetes who were treated with Metformin experienced up to 18 pounds of weight loss due to decreased calorie intake. Based on this result, another much larger trial was able to record a similar effect among 4,000 patients with type 2 diabetes. The study highlighted that the use of Metformin was associated with a 5.3-pound weight loss over a four-year period.

The reason behind the weight loss was due to Metformin’s ability to reduce appetite, which is caused by the medication increasing the body’s sensitivity to hormones like insulin and leptin. Leptin is the hormone that triggers feelings of satiety, so increased sensitivity to it can lessen feelings of hunger. Metformin has also been seen to have positive effects on the gut microbiome.

Should you take Metformin for weight loss?

As previously mentioned, doctors may prescribe Metformin for its off-label use as weight loss medication. But it all still depends on your medical history, goals, and insurance coverage. Some weight loss programs require you to match recommended medical criteria, meet with a clinician, and discuss your medical needs to ensure that pharmacological treatment is appropriate, especially if you’re looking to get evaluated for an obesity treatment prescription.

Ultimately, due to Metformin’s inconsistent weight loss effects, it’s best to use it in conjunction with a tailored nutrition plan that’s healthy and sustainable, as well as a fitness regimen to further harness the benefits of medical weight loss. Most importantly, before you try any medication for weight loss, it’s best to first consult your physician.

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about the author

Henry Washington BSc, BSc, MA, PhD. Fascinated with the study of human behavior, and how this affects our day-to-day lives. Has read more books on the subject than he can count and has an extensive collection of academic papers to match. Published in the following journals: Nature, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Trends in Neurosciences, Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, Brain research reviews and Cerebral Cortex.