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If you take a widely prescribed type 2 diabetes drug to defend your wellbeing against the disease, you may also be doing something to help your anti-ageing wellness. This is according to a study published in the journal Cell, which found that, by mimicking the effects of dieting, metformin slowed down the ageing process in worms.
According to Dr Filipe Cabreiro from the Institute of Healthy Ageing at UCL, who led the research, ‘Overall, treatment with metformin adds up to six days of life for the worm, which is equivalent to around a third of its normal lifespan. It seems to work by altering metabolism in the bacteria that live in the worm, which in turn limits the nutrients that are available to the worm host and has a similar effect to restricting the diet.’
It’s already been studied that if you follow a calorie-restricted diet you can improve your health in later life and extend your lifespan. This has been proven in several animals, from the simple worm to rhesus monkeys, and metformin has been found to have similar effects in animals, though it was not clear exactly how the drug delays the ageing process, until now. Supported by the Welcome Trust and Medical Research Council, the researchers examined C. elegans worms that were grown in the presence of E. coli bacteria, finding that the worms treated with metformin only lived longer when the E. coli strain they were cultured with was sensitive to the drug.
The researchers used E. coli because the relationship between the strain and worms is similar to the one you share with the ‘healthy’ bacteria in your gut. This bacteria plays an important role in helping you digest and get your nutrients from food, and when your gut bacteria isn’t functioning properly, you’re more at risk of developing obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and cancer. The team found that the worm’s E. coli bacteria’s ability to metabolise folate, a type of B-vitamin, and methionine, one of the building blocks of proteins, was disrupted by the diabetes drug, allowing the worms to live longer due to the mimicked effects of dietary restriction.