Metformin is a drug prescribed to manage blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. You may have heard that metformin can also help you lose weight. But is it true?
The answer is a resounding maybe. Here’s what you should know about what metformin can do for weight loss, as well as why your doctor may prescribe it for you.
According to research, metformin can help some people lose weight. However, it’s not clear why metformin may cause weight loss. One theory is that it may prompt you to eat less by reducing your appetite. It may also change the way your body uses and stores fat.
Although studies have shown that metformin may help with weight loss, the drug is not a quick-fix solution. According to one long-term study, the weight loss from metformin tends to occur gradually over one to two years. The amount of weight lost also varies from person to person. In the study, the average amount of weight lost after two or more years was four to seven pounds.
Taking the drug without following other healthy habits may not lead to weight loss. Individuals who follow a healthy diet and exercise while taking metformin tend to lose the most weight. This may be because metformin is thought to boost how many calories you burn during exercise. If you don’t exercise, you likely won’t have this benefit.
In addition, any weight loss you have may only last as long as you take the medication. That means if you stop taking metformin, there’s a good chance you will return to your original weight. And even while you’re still taking the drug, you may slowly gain back any weight you’ve lost.
In other words, metformin may not be the magic diet pill some people have been waiting for. It has been shown to reduce weight in some, but not others. One of the benefits of metformin is that even if it does not cause weight loss, it does not cause weight gain. This is not true for some of the medicines used to treat type 2 diabetes.
If you have type 2 diabetes or prediabetes and are overweight or obese, your doctor may prescribe metformin to help you manage your diabetes or lower your risk of diabetes, and to see if it can help you to lose weight. In fact, your doctor might prescribe metformin for weight loss even if you don’t have diabetes or prediabetes.
This use of metformin is called an off-label use. That means that the FDA has not approved metformin as a weight-loss aid. As a result, there is less information about how effective it is for this purpose.
If your doctor prescribes metformin for you, he or she will decide on a dosage that’s right for you. You’ll likely start metformin at a low dosage and gradually increase it over a few weeks. This can help minimize any side effects.
If you’re losing weight while taking metformin, it may or may not be the result of the medication. Weight loss can result from other factors as well. For example, some health conditions may cause loss of appetite, which can lead to weight loss. These conditions include:
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Parkinson’s disease
Other medications may also cause weight loss. Chemotherapy drugs may do this by reducing your appetite. Certain thyroid medications boost your metabolism, which can cause weight loss. These drugs include levothyroxine, liothyronine, and liotrix. Other drugs that may spur weight loss include some ADHD drugs, such as amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Concerta).
Digestive system issues may also cause weight loss. These issues include:
- irritable bowel syndrome
- infections of the stomach or intestines
- surgeries of the stomach or intestines
Keep in mind that metformin is a relatively safe drug with side effects that usually go away over time. Any weight loss you may have while taking it should be gradual and minimal and should not cause alarm. But if you’re concerned about the amount of weight you’ve lost while taking metformin, talk to your doctor. He or she can help determine what’s causing your weight loss and if anything needs to be done about it.
Whether or not you take metformin, you should call your doctor if you’re losing weight rapidly and have no energy or appetite. You should also call your doctor if you’ve lost more than 10 pounds in the last six to 12 months and don’t know why. In general, you should feel free to call any time you have questions or concerns about your health or your weight.
The road to weight loss varies from person to person. Still, the weight loss method that’s most recommended by doctors is a combination of a healthy diet and exercise. For more information, read about diabetes-safe diets and exercise tips for people with diabetes.
To find out more about metformin and weight loss, talk to your doctor. They can answer your questions and help you find a weight loss plan that’s right for you. Some questions you might ask include:
- Can you recommend a diet and exercise program to help me lose weight?
- Do I really need a medication to help me lose weight?
- What is a reasonable weight loss goal for me?
- Should I work with a dietitian to help with my diet?
- If I lose weight, could I stop taking some of my medications for diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure?