What are the side effects of Metformin? What does it do to your body? And what should you avoid or take, when put on Metformin medications? These are only few of the questions that crop up in your mind as your Doctor introduces you to this most commonly used medicine for Diabetes Type II.
Rightly so! While Metformin is the first choice of medication for insulin resistance and Diabetes; it comes with its own baggage of multiple side effects that affect your body and brain function.
In this post, we will look into what is metformin, how it works, common and serious side effects of metformin and Ayurvedic natural alternatives to control your blood sugar levels. Let’s get started!
Metformin for Diabetes
The incidence of diabetes has increased dramatically over the past few decades. With that, the need for quick cures and medications also rose. One of the answers to the ever rising menace is the discovery of the drug ‘metformin.’
It helps Diabetic patients to manage their soaring high blood sugar levels. And this comes without the usual effects as weight gain, which was the biggest problems with Insulin shots or other insulin based meds for Diabetes.
Metformin works like an effective patch to reduce and maintain high blood sugar levels. Thus, it helps to prevent health risks and complications from progression of Diabetes.
However, it doesn’t address the root cause of the problem, which is insulin resistance. It does improve insulin sensitivity temporarily, but the problem stays and hence your dependency on Metformin for the rest of your life.
Metformin and its variants are known by the brand names Glucophage, Glucophage XR, Fortamet, Glumetza, etc.
Since liver and kidneys are main site of action of Metformin; it is not recommended for Diabetes patients, who have existing health conditions related to liver, kidneys and heart.
Insulin Resistance and Diabetes
The root cause of high blood sugar levels in Diabetes type II is Insulin Resistance.
Insulin is the hormone that helps to keep your blood sugar levels low. It does this by pushing sugar into cells. Unfortunately, when there is insulin resistance, the body cells resist this action of insulin.
Consequently, the sugar remains in the blood, making blood sugar levels high (a classic sign of diabetes).
The insulin also, unable to perform its work, remains in the blood and accumulates leading to high insulin levels. This further aggravates insulin resistance.
What exactly does metformin do to your body?
Metformin reduces high blood sugar levels by improving insulin sensitivity and also by altering the production of sugar in the liver and intestines in the body. Here’s how:
It is also called a euglycemic, which means it may restore the blood sugar to normal or non diabetic levels.
- It improves insulin sensitivity in the cells, specifically muscle cells. This helps to push the blood sugar into the cells, where it is required the most.
- Metformin acts on carbohydrate metabolism pathway in liver and reduces the amount of sugar (or glucose) that it makes. This helps to reduce blood sugar levels.
- It reduces the amount of sugar that your body absorbs in the gut from the food you eat. This action also helps to reduce the blood sugar.
Types of Metformin
The action of metformin can be determined by the type of metformin tablet. There are two types;
Standard release metformin tablets
These act fairly quickly by releasing metformin rapidly into the blood. With this type, you have to take your dosages more often. An example is Glucophage.
Slow-release metformin tablets
Also known as extended-release tablets. They release metformin slowly over a long period. You might only require one dosage in a day taken with your evening meal.
Furthermore, the tablet could come in tablets or in liquid form. In any case, it is taken orally.
What are the Side Effects of Metformin?
You should never harm one body system to fix the other. If you do that, you might affect another body system to fix the one you’ve just disturbed.
Rather, you should always figure out the root cause of problem or health issue. This will help you to fix your health problem in entirety rather than putting patches on health symptoms.
While Metformin for diabetes may show results for you; there are quite some metformin side effects that you want to avoid. It disturbs multiple body systems while fixing the high blood sugar levels in the body.
These are not just speculations, but there have been reported cases. In fact, some brands of extended-release tablets have had to be recalled because of their undesirable effects.
Now, let’s consider some of these side effects of metformin.
Common Metformin Side Effects
- Upset stomach
- Metallic taste in the mouth
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Painful or difficult urination
- Decreased levels of vitamin B12
Of these, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are the most prevalent.
More serious Side Effects of Metformin
1. Lactic Acidosis
It is the most serious of the side effects. In fact, there is usually a warning of this risk on metformin packaging itself.
Lactic acidosis is regarded as a medical emergency and should not be taken with levity. It comes with its own host of symptoms that include:
- extreme tiredness
- muscle pain
- decreased appetite
- Dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
- Increased or decreased heart rate
- feeling cold
- sudden reddening and warmth in your skin
- Severe stomach pain
When your blood sugar levels fall too low, then it is termed as Hypoglycemia.
You’ll recall that metformin works to the end of reducing blood sugar. Sometimes, it overdoes this and leaves you with much lower blood sugar than what you need to function optimally.
You are more at risk of developing hypoglycemia if you combine the use of metformin with a poor diet, strenuous physical activities and exercise, excessive alcohol intake, or other diabetes medications.
Consequently, you may experience:
- stomach pain
- Abnormal heart rate (increased or decreased)
In this case, you may need to adjust your dosage and timings of medication. Consult your Doctor for the same.
3. Vitamin B12 Deficiency and Low Iron Symptoms
One of the risks associated with taking metformin is vitamin B12 deficiency. If this deficiency is not addressed, you might develop Iron deficiency Anemia.
Anemia is a reduction in the number of red blood cells (RBCs) present in your blood. RBCs carry oxygen around your body, so if they are less in number, there will be less oxygen supply to tissues. Consequently, you feel:
- Tired and extremely Fatigued
- Dizzy and
- Hair Fall
How to Manage the Side Effects of Metformin?
If you must continue taking Metformin medication for diabetes, then ensure you put measures in place to avoid the potential side effects of metformin.
Here’s what you can do:
- Be wary of metformin if you have kidney or liver problems. These organs are involved in breaking down the drug. If they are not healthy, they will not be able to handle it.
- Metformin might not be suitable for you if you have heart problems either.
- The extended release version of the medication could be better for you. This is because it is broken down slowly, as opposed to the standard release version of the drug.
- Do not drink alcohol while taking metformin.
- Avoid strenuous physical activities while on the metformin medication.
- Don’t take the medication on an empty stomach. It is better taken with meals.
- Consider Vitamin B12 and Iron supplementation or introduce food options in your diet to counter the deficiency.
But, what if you didn’t have to worry about all these? What if there were better and natural alternatives to metformin?
Ayurvedic Natural Alternatives to Metformin (Glucophage) for Diabetes
Diabetes is a lifestyle disease. As such, it is best managed with lifestyle and diet. You don’t necessarily need to take medications for diabetes.
And when we are talking about the natural, and about optimizing your lifestyle and diet for health, then we must surely turn to Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a holistic system of medicine that has advanced itself over five centuries.
Ayurveda focuses on the root cause of a disease, and not just the symptoms presented. Therefore, for a lifestyle disease like diabetes, it recognizes the best approach is with lifestyle too.
So, you might want to consider the Ultimate Guide to lowering your blood sugar naturally with Ayurveda.
Here are health some tips you can start with to manage your health in Diabetes type II due to Insulin Resistance.
Ayurvedic Herbs for controlling blood sugar
Nature contains ingredients for managing health. Oftentimes, these medications that we purchase for use are derived from nature. So, why buy the drug when you can get the needed ingredient from the original source?
Several herbs have been used by Ayurveda to control blood sugar over time. These herbs can serve as a good substitute for metformin, and without the side effects too.
- Gymnema: Gymnema is also known as the ‘sugar destroyer’, and rightly so. It interferes with the body’s ability to taste sweet flavors. Further, it helps support normal blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. A research exercise found that Gymnema can improve glucose control in Type 2 diabetics. Gymnema is widely available in teas, capsules, and extracts in natural food stores.
- Gurmar: Gumar contains gumarin and flavonols. These substances are effective in managing blood sugar levels.
- Giloy: Giloy leaves control blood sugar and are also useful in managing other symptoms of diabetes. Furthermore, it helps boost immunity and has antioxidant effects.
- Jamun: Jamun seeds stimulate insulin secretion. It also helps heal wounds in diabetics, as well as reduces the risk of kidney dysfunction.
- Vijaysar: It reduces blood sugars and unhealthy lipids(fats). Vijaysar also prevents frequent urination, overeating, and burning sensation in the limbs.
- Sadabahar: This herb is effective for treating type-2 diabetes, and also malaria, and sore throats.
Diet and Foods for Diabetes – Ahara
What you eat determines how much sugar you get in your blood or how much you store. Also, the kind of meal you eat plays a part in insulin levels in your body. Thus, we can agree that what you eat goes a long way to affect diabetes.
Introduce these healthy habits and foods to get good results:
- Eat minimally processed carbohydrates like rolled oats, barley, buckwheat, and whole-grain flour with a good amount of chaff in it.
- Eat grains and cereals like foxtail millet, barnyard millet, and protein-rich, quinoa and amaranth in your diet.
- Include multiple tastes or Rasa in your diet for variety – add bitter, sour, and astringent food products such as gourds, squashes, green leafy vegetables, and tubers. Fruits such as berries and citrus fruits carry Astringent and Sour tastes, which help to curb the cravings for sugar-laden foods.
- Try as much as possible to get locally grown food products. These are less likely to be laden with additives and preservatives.
- Include fruits, vegetables and wholesome natural fiber in your diet.
- Take seeds and nuts in moderation as they provide healthy fatty acids and complex carbohydrates.
- Eat foods with a low glycemic index.
Foods to Avoid
- Stop eating packaged snacks such as biscuits, shortcakes, and cakes as the majority of them have processed flour.
- Remove fast food from the diet altogether.
- Stop consumption of sugar-laden beverages.
- Shun late-night meals. Take your last meal or dinner at least 1 hour before sleeping to allow enough time for digestion.
- Use natural sweeteners like honey instead of the regular you eat.
Your diet calorie composition should include:
- 20-35% of Healthy Fats from pure oils, nuts and seeds
- 20-35% of proteins from whole grains, vegetables, beans, lentils and sprouts
- 44-46% of complex carbohydrates from whole grains, beans, lentils, sprouts, fruits and vegetables
Physical Activity and Lifestyle – Vihara
Your level of physical activity also affects diabetes. There is a correlation between diabetes and body weight. People who are obese are at higher risk of diabetes and vice versa. Thus, you should stay active and live a healthy lifestyle. How do you do that?
- Follow a healthy meal plan as outlined above.
- Engage in exercises regularly. Target 30 minutes daily.
- Shun a sedentary lifestyle. Do more activities that require moving about, take a brisk walk, jog, practice yoga… Really, it’s up to you.
- Smoking and Alcohol is prohibited as it leads to hypoglycemia.
- Manage stress well and avoid stressful situations. Stress symptoms cause a release of sugar into your bloodstream, thereby raising blood sugar levels.
- Do not indulge in binge eating.
A Final Note
If you see these side effects of metformin showing up in your body, contact your doctor immediately to get the alternatives that will work for your health condition. You shouldn’t just up and quit Metformin as it can lead to even more dangerous health issues. Make sure you do it safely and under medical supervision.
In the end, what matters most in controlling diabetes is how you live and what you eat. That is the only sustainable long-term solution.
Before you Go!
Now we want to hear from you. What do you do to prevent side effects of Metformin? Which ways do you find most effective? Or do share with us if you have successfully reduced your metformin dosage or weaned off it completely.
Do write to us for any queries and feedback. We will get back to you the soonest.
Wishing you vibrant health!
- Current knowledge on Metformin
- Metformin Should Not Be Used to Treat Prediabetes
- A review of its use in the treatment type 2 diabetes
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can you come off Metformin?
If you are prudent with your diet and lifestyle; you can surely reduce your dosage and dependency on Metformin. This should be done under the guidance of a medical professional.
2. Can Metformin help me to lose weight?
Research indicates that Metformin may prove helpful for people, who are extremely obese and not able to control their blood sugar levels in any other way. It can act as an aid that will support your weight loss journey by changing your diet and lifestyle along with.
However, there is no or little evidence of metformin helping with weight loss. The only thing that it does is “not let you gain weight” in comparison to insulin shots, which resulted in excess weight gain.
So, by taking metformin alone you are not going to lose weight. You may gain it though if you are not careful and let yourself go loose on your discipline towards food.
3. Can Metformin be used in Gestational Diabetes?
Research indicates that Metformin is possibly effective and safe for the treatment of gestational diabetes, specifically for obese women. However, metformin crosses the placenta, hence it may affect the health of the baby in the long term.
4. Metformin for PCOS
Using Metformin to treat PCOS may not be the best choice. Simply because, it is an agent to reduce blood sugar levels primarily.
Metformin can help to regulate periods and promote fertility for extremely obese women. This happens due to its action on insulin resistance and hence weight loss. Yet, this is not the best approach for long term and neither it is effective for women with lean type of PCOS.
Now, high blood sugar is one of the problems in PCOS, but the most troublesome issue is metabolic and hormonal disturbances. This needs to be addressed in a holistic way depending on which hormones have gone haywire in the case of PCOS patient.