Scientists have long sought drugs to extend life. One of the places they are searching is on the pharmacy shelf. Drugs like the immunosuppressant rapamycin have been shown to extend life in lab mice.

Today, writing in Nature Communications, researchers from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and their colleagues present data reaffirming that diabetes drug metformin ought to be added to the theoretical checklist of compounds that appear to stave off aging, extending the lives of animals administered them.

Testing two doses of metformin in male C57BL/6 mice, NIA’s Alejandro Martin-Montalvo, Ph.D., and his colleagues found that the diabetes drug increased both healthspan and longevity. That is, not only did the mice live longer, they also lived more healthfully.

In their paper, Dr. Martin-Montalvo et al., note that treating male mice with metformin mimicked some of the benefits observed with caloric restriction—like improved physical performance, increased insulin sensitivity, and reduced low-density lipoprotein and cholesterol levels—without reducing intake. They also note that, at a molecule level, metformin increases antioxidant protection and AMP-activated protein kinase activity, reducing both the accumulation of oxidative damage and chronic inflammation.

“Our results indicate that these actions may contribute to the beneficial effects of metformin on healthspan and lifespan,” the researchers write. “These findings are in agreement with current epidemiological data and raise the possibility of metformin-based interventions to promote healthy aging,” they add.

Still, they note, further research is required. Dr. Martin-Montalvo and his colleagues caution that the levels of metformin observed in the lab mice were about 10 times higher than they appear in diabetes patients taking the drug.

“Metformin improves healthspan and lifespan in mice” was published July 30 in Nature Communications.

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