Metformin appears to have cardiovascular benefits, researchers report

An inexpensive medication normally given to people with type 2 diabetes may help preserve heart health in people with the less common form of diabetes — type 1, a small new study finds.

Metformin is the standard first-line treatment for type 2 diabetes to help bring blood sugar levels down. It also appears to help repair damaged blood cells by increasing the number of blood vessel (vascular) stem cells, researchers said.

“We have shown — both in test tube and in patients — the mechanism behind the cardioprotective effects of metformin,” said the study’s senior author, Dr. Jolanta Weaver. She’s a senior lecturer in diabetes medicine at Newcastle University in England.

“This is likely to lead to the development of new drugs for heart disease in diabetes,” she added.

Sanjoy Duttais is assistant vice president of translational development at JDRF, a nonprofit organization that funds type 1 diabetes research. He expressed enthusiasm for the new findings.

“This was an extremely well-designed and conducted study. They have shown which cardiovascular biomarkers go up and down with metformin. But these are markers only. For a drug to be approved or widely accepted, researchers have to demonstrate hard outcomes,” explained Dutta.

JDRF has funded such a study by a different group of researchers that will be done next summer, Dutta said.

That study will look at whether or not people over 40 with type 1 diabetes had less plaque buildup (atherosclerosis) in their blood vessels over three years if they took metformin.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to destroy the body’s insulin-producing cells. Without sufficient insulin, the body can’t process the carbohydrates from food to provide the body’s cells with fuel.

Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death in people with type 1 diabetes. Even with good blood sugar control, the risk of heart attack or stroke is twice as high for people with type 1 diabetes compared to people without it, the researchers said.

The new study included 23 adults with type 1 diabetes who were treated with metformin for eight weeks. None had overt signs of heart disease. Their average age was 46.