Diabetes drug metformin is being investigated over contamination fears

Metformin cancer risk

When you receive a prescription for a medication from your doctor, you generally trust that it is safe – that it will improve your health, not harm it. Especially when it is a drug that is used by millions of people every day.

The FDA has recently begun testing samples of a commonly-used type 2 diabetes drug, metformin, for the carcinogen N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) [1]. This is the same contaminate that has also been found in certain high blood pressure and OTC heart bun medications.

What is Metformin?

Metformin is often the first medication prescribed for a patient with type 2 diabetes [1]. It works by helping your body respond properly to the insulin you naturally produce. It also decreases the amount of sugar your liver makes and that your stomach and intestines absorb. This works to balance your blood sugar levels if you have type 2 diabetes [2].

Metformin is usually prescribed along with a diet and exercise plan, and sometimes other medications. It is important because if you have type 2 diabetes and you do not manage your blood sugar levels, you could damage your kidneys, your eyes, and your nerves. Uncontrolled high blood sugar puts you at greater risk for strokes and heart attacks, and could even lead to the loss of a limb [2].
Currently, over 150 million people use Metformin every day to manage their type 2 diabetes [3].

What is NDMA?

NDMA is a chemical that is used only for research purposes in the United States. It was, at one point, used to make rocket fuel, but after high levels of the chemical were found in the air, water, and soil around a rocket fuel manufacturing plant, its use was stopped [4].

NDMA is formed unintentionally, however, during various manufacturing processes, and through reactions with compounds called alkylamines, which are both natural and man-made and can be found widespread throughout our environment [4]. It does not, however, remain in the environment, and evaporates in sunlight within minutes [4].

NDMA is extremely harmful to your liver, and consistent exposure to the compound can cause severe, non-cancerous liver disease [4]. It has, however, been shown to be a potent carcinogen in animals, and there is sufficient evidence to suggest that it could cause cancer in humans as well [5].

Related: More blood pressure, heart failure medications added to FDA recall

The Beginning Stages of Testing

NDMA can either occur naturally or as an unintentional industrial byproduct. For this reason, there is an acceptable level at which the chemical can be in a drug. The acceptable daily intake (ADI) of NDMA in the United States is 96 nanograms [1].

“A person taking a drug that contains NDMA at or below the ADI every day for 70 years is not expected to have an increased risk of cancer,” explained FDA spokesman Jeremy Khan [4].

Currently, the FDA is testing to confirm if the levels of NDMA in Metformin are exceeding the ADI [1].

American pharmacy Valisure, which tests every batch of drugs before selling them, has rejected sixty percent of the Metformin it has received since it began testing for NDMA in March [6].

The company’s CEO, David Light, believes the public has cause for concern.

“The public definitely should be concerned about the rapidly growing discovery of carcinogens in medications, especially in those that are taken on a daily basis where even small contaminations can add up over time,” [6].

Officials Urge the Public to be Patient

While the FDA is still in the beginning stages of testing, officials are urging people who are taking Metformin not to stop.

“This is a serious condition, and patients should not stop taking their metformin without first talking to their health care professionals,” the statement says. [1]

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.

Read More: New Study: Deadly Flesh-Eating Genital Infection Linked to Certain Diabetes Medication

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