By Nurse Mark
How a toxic plant may have become the anti-aging, anti-cancer wonder-drug of the near future.
Ancient middle-eastern sheep and goat-herders couldn’t help but notice that when their animals ate a certain plant they produced more milk. The pretty, summer-flowering Galega officinalis was known variously as galega, goat’s-rue, French lilac, Italian fitch, or professor-weed and while initially native to the Middle East it also spread to Europe and some parts of Asia and Pakistan and can now be found throughout the Americas where it was introduced as a forage plant. It now grows wild in only one part of Utah and is considered to be an agricultural pest by the federal government.
During the middle ages, healers found that teas and extracts of the plant could stimulate milk production in new mothers, but that it had to be used carefully as it could also be toxic – not only to the mother, but also to the baby. More importantly, ancient physicians also found that it had value in treating the thirst and frequent passing of sugary urine that were the symptoms of the disease we now know as diabetes.
However, all was not so well with the use of this plant, and the ancient healers found that if too much was given the patient could experience some very dangerous side effects such as spasms or even seizures, pulmonary edema (a buildup of fluid in the lungs) and tracheal and pharyngeal frothing and coughing, hypotension (low blood pressure), and even paralysis, coma, and death if high enough doses were taken! This was not a remedy to be used lightly…
Unbeknownst to the ancient healers, goat’s rue contains large concentrations of a substance related to guanidine which certainly decreases blood sugar but is far too toxic to be used safely in humans.
Still, the historical use of goat’s rue for treating diabetes did not escape the notice of early 20th century physicians and researchers, and around the time of the First World War a less toxic alkaloid, galegine, was identified in goat’s rue by French researchers. Galegine was found to have a positive action on blood sugar in diabetics and was indeed less toxic than the other guanidines in goat’s rue. Unfortunately the duration of action was very short and although there were a few human studies in the 1920’s, it was not a practical answer.
Researchers persevered however, and their efforts led to the synthesis of biguanides which were related to the guanides but were far less toxic. The biguanides were seen as compounds with greater potential and three of them, phenformin, buformin, and metformin, would go on to be offered as drugs for the treatment of diabetes. Phenformin and buformin were eventually withdrawn because of undesirable side effects, but Metformin has proven to be safe and effective and is now considered a first-line drug for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes.
Though Metformin was developed and approved for use in England in 1957 our own FDA took another over 3 decades more to approve the drug for use in the US. Well over a half century of use has not only proven Metformin to be effective and safe in the treatment of diabetes, it has given doctors and researchers ample opportunity to discover some of the drugs other, non-diabetes related benefits.
Unfortunately for Metformin some patients using the related but dissimilar drug Phenformin went on to develop a dangerous condition called lactic acidosis which in a few cases led to death. Phenformin was promptly withdrawn from use and Metformin, even though very different in its metabolism and having never been associated with lactic acidosis, was banned along with Phenformin by several countries. This cast a chill over the use of Metformin that would take it years to recover from.
It took until 1995 for Metformin to once again find favor in the US, and since then doctors have found that besides blood glucose control, metformin use reduced the risks of myocardial infarction (heart attack) and all-cause mortality. Additionally, nephrologists (kidney specialists) believe that metformin is helpful in kidney disease. Metformin is now also being used to treat polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), gestational diabetes and is showing significant promise in the prevention and treatment of cancer.
With all these benefits coming to light you might think Metformin could comfortably rest on its laurels, but no, there’s more – there is growing evidence of its potential to extend lifespan and wellness in humans. This evidence has become so strong that the mighty FDA has bowed to pressure and has now approved not one, but 2 long-term clinical trials intended to validate in humans the results of earlier studies that prove longevity extension in lab animals.
There you have it – a “rags to riches” story – from helpful but toxic herb to a drug that may extend our human lifespan.
Is it any wonder that progressive doctors like Dr. Myatt feel that this is such an important drug? Dr. Myatt has been recommending Metformin to her patients, especially her longevity patients and cancer patients, for many years.
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