Why a $20 diabetes drug extends lifespan and boosts overall health

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Scientists have found further evidence that a cheap diabetes drug may help to slow aging and boost overall health. 

Metformin, the most commonly-prescribed drug for type 2 diabetes, has long been co-opted as an unofficial anti-aging pill thanks to animal studies that showed it extended lifespan and boosted metabolism.

But it has down sides - such as hindering stamina during exercise - and scientists hoping to improve it have faced a fundamental roadblock: it's not clear exactly how metformin works, and how its benefits can be harnessed in a new drug without the down sides.

Now, US researchers have offered an answer: metformin inflicts mild stress on the body, triggering sensors to restore metabolic balance that can swing off-kilter with age. 

The findings, published today in the journal Cell Reports, give a boost to scientists who want to repurpose the $20 diabetes drug as a better anti-aging pill, and for those trying to improve the drug for the growing number of people with type 2 diabetes.

Metformin, which is used by nearly 120 million people worldwide, activates an enzyme known as AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase), which keeps blood sugar levels under control

Metformin, which is used by nearly 120 million people worldwide, activates an enzyme known as AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase), which keeps blood sugar levels under control

'These results provide us with new avenues to explore in order to understand how metformin works as a diabetes drug, along with its health-span-extending effects,' says Professor Reuben Shaw, co-corresponding author of the paper and the director of the Salk Institute's Cancer Center. 

'These are pathways that neither we, nor anyone else, would have imagined.'

Metformin, which is used by nearly 120 million people worldwide, activates an enzyme known as AMPK (AMP-activated protein kinase), which keeps blood sugar levels under control.

But over the years, animal studies have shown anti-aging benefits, too. 

While countless anti-aging supplements and drugs pile onto the market every year, with little evidence to support it, the National Institutes of Health has shown

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