The 12-year study based on a Taiwanese population cohort looked at the effect of sulfonylureas with metformin in individuals with diabetes. It was found that not only does diabetes increase the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease more than two-fold, the use of sulfonylureas, commonly used to stimulate the beta cells to produce more insulin, increases the risk by about 57 per cent.
However the study, by researchers from Monash University, the National Defense Medical Centre, Taiwan, the National Health Research Institutes, Taiwan and the China Medical University and Hospital, Taiwan also found that by including metformin in the therapy, no increased risk in developing Parkinson’s disease was recorded.
Metformin, found in the plant French lilac (Galega officinalis) was originally used in traditional European medicine, and introduced into France and Britain in the 1950s for the treatment of diabetes. Taken orally, it helps control blood sugar levels and has a long and relatively safe record, and is relatively inexpensive.
Lead author, Emeritus Professor Mark Wahlqvist from Monash University’s Asia Pacific Health and Nutrition Centre, said an exciting aspect of the finding is that metformin seems to be working to protect the brain against neurodegeneration which contributes to Parkinsonism.
“This means it may be considered a relevant therapy for the prevention of dementia as well,” Professor Wahlqvist said.
“While much needs to be done to understand the mechanism behind metformin’s workings, a re-setting of the regulation of energy metabolism in cells, including the brain, probably takes place.
A similar benefit would be expected from exercise and diet because that too is a way of establishing healthy energy regulation not only for the whole body, but for tissues and cells in the brain.
“It appears that metformin has opened new ways to look at major diseases of modern society and how we may reduce the growing burdens of such diseases. Unlike other treatments for diabetes, metformin reduces cardiovascular mortality and several cancers, including those of the large bowel, liver and pancreas,” Professor Wahlqvist said.