This Just In: The Link Between Metformin and Birth Defects

A 2022 study has linked Metformin, a diabetes drug, with genital birth defects in male children. Read on for details on the study and more.

By Hima
28 Apr 2022

At any given moment, over half a billion people are living with diabetes, says Hong Sun and his team in Diabetes research and clinical practice, 2022 journal. To break it down, 10.5 per cent of the adult population worldwide is suffering from diabetes, depicts an article from Elsevier, 2022. Further, the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes is more common than other types of diabetes. A person suffering from diabetes must keep their blood sugar level close to normal. Usually, metformin drug helps our body to achieve the same.


A study (March 28, 2022, in Annals of Internal Medicine) linked Metformin to birth defects in boys whose father consumed metformin. The researchers commented that the use of diabetic drug metformin may alter sperm development in men which would result in increased birth defects in their sons. Also, the study proclaims that female children are not affected. Although metformin is the first in line medication for type II diabetes, the recent study raises some concerns.


“Considering that the research is the first of its kind, it can not be completely legitimized. Much more research is needed to confirm the above-stated information,” remarks Dr. S K Wangnoo, a senior endocrinologist at Apollo Hospital, Delhi. Furthermore, he adds that metformin works to help the body fight against diabetes and cancer but it does not hinder the karyotype of the progeny. Essentially means that the sperm and the chromosome are not affected. Let’s find out more about metformin.


Related Story: The diabetes Guide: How to Balance Your Blood Sugar Level


Why metformin is used to treat type II diabetes?

Metformin is only used to treat type II diabetes and not type I diabetes. In the case of type I diabetes, our body cannot produce insulin, a natural substance that controls blood sugar levels in our body. Whereas, in type II diabetes our body is capable of producing insulin, but, the insulin does not function to its normal capacity. Metformin increases the body’s response to insulin thereby, boosting the function of insulin in our body.


Metformin also decreases the amount of glucose absorbed from food by our bodies. Further, it targets the liver and discourages the liver from producing an excess amount of glucose, thereby, compensating for the ill-functioning insulin.

Over time, people suffering from diabetes tend to develop life-threatening complications. These include heart disease, stroke, kidney stones, nerve complications, and so on. Thus, doctors prescribe treatment plans that include metformin as medication along with a few lifestyle changes. However, the medications are not risk-free.


Here are the side effects of metformin

Metformin directly causes changes to the blood sugar level in your body. Initially, few side effects such as sweating, dizziness, increased urination, flushing, and rapid breathing are common due to the fluctuations in blood glucose level. When the blood sugar level raises, the condition is known as hyperglycemia. The body shows signs that include thirst, excess urination, drowsiness, and fruity breath. Usually, Metformin does not cause low blood sugar, commonly known as hypoglycemia. Thus, hypoglycaemic symptoms such as sudden sweating, shaking, fast heartbeat, feet tingling, and blurred vision must not be side-lined.


Further, the drug itself will cause a few side effects like diarrhea, bloating, stomach pain, acidity, indigestion, nail changes, muscle pain, and constipation. If these side effects persist for a long time and or become a common occurrence following the medication, it is advised to get in touch with your doctor.


Metformin side effects usually target the digestive system of the body. The above side effects are common and can be managed by starting with a low dose and taking metformin with a meal. Generally, the doctor compares the pros and cons of the medications and their effect on the body. Only when your health condition is worse than the side effect of the medication, the medication is prescribed. Another major point is that the medication’s benefits outweigh the risk of the medication, confirms Dr. S K Wangoo.


Serious Side Effects of Metformin

1. Lactic acidosis: Although lactic acidosis is rare, it cannot be side-lined. The package of metformin contains a black box highlighting this risk. Note that, a boxed warning is the most severe warning issued by the Food and Drug Administration. Lactic acidosis is the build of metformin in the body, that imbalances the pH of your body.


2. Anemia: Metformin has the capability to reduce vitamin B12 in the body. Vitamin B12 is necessary for the normal functioning of red blood cells' role in oxygen transport.


Know more about anemia- Related Story- Do you have Brittle nails and feel Fatigued? You could be deficient of this mineral


3. Birth defect affecting fertility in males: Recent paper published in Annals of Internal Medicine links the diabetic drug metformin to birth defects in male children. The study outlines that metformin may cause undescended testicles and urethral problems in male children who’s father was under metformin medication.


The frequency of usage of metformin to treat type II diabetes is extremely high. Although the safety and effectiveness of metformin are well established, however, the side effects are life-altering. A study published in Oxford academic, 2021, proves that metformin is not associated with COVID-19-related mortality. Related studies are being conducted to analyse metformin’s ability to improve glycaemic control without causing life-threatening side effects.




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