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What is metformin? Exploring the weight loss benefits, side effects, and cost

1 min Read

Dr. Adonis Saremi

Chief Medical Officer, M.D.

What you’ll learn: If you’ve heard of Ozempic, you probably know it’s a diabetes medication that is sometimes prescribed off-label for weight loss. But did you know that it’s not the only one? Metformin is also a type-2 diabetes drug that’s gaining attention for its ability to promote weight loss. Could metformin be the right […]

What you’ll learn:

  • Metformin is a key medication for managing type 2 diabetes, helping to lower blood sugar levels and prevent complications.
  • Metformin can aid weight loss off-label by reducing appetite and enhancing insulin sensitivity.
  • Metformin is widely available as a generic medication, making it an affordable option for many. 

If you’ve heard of Ozempic, you probably know it’s a diabetes medication that is sometimes prescribed off-label for weight loss. But did you know that it’s not the only one? Metformin is also a type-2 diabetes drug that’s gaining attention for its ability to promote weight loss. Could metformin be the right medication for you if you need to lose weight for health purposes? 

Since you’re exploring weight loss medications, be sure to see if you qualify for Noom Med. Our qualified clinicians will help you find the medication that’s right for you and provide personalized guidance and support. You’ll learn how to manage side effects, optimize your nutrition, and build healthy habits for long-term success.

Now, let’s look at the facts behind what metformin is and what it can do.

What is Metformin and how does it work for weight loss?

Metformin is a medication that has been used to treat type 2 diabetes for over half a century. As we said, it’s FDA-approved to treat type 2 diabetes management, but it has also been prescribed off-label for weight loss. 

There are three main ways that metformin can help someone lose weight:

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  • It increases levels of what researchers call an “anti-hunger” molecule. This is the same molecule that is produced after vigorous exercise, a time when hunger is naturally suppressed. 
  • Metformin helps lower glucose production and improves insulin sensitivity, both of which aid in weight loss.
  • It stabilizes blood sugar, which also normalizes insulin levels, helping to burn fat.

How is metformin taken?

Most folks take metformin as a pill with a meal, usually once or twice a day. There’s also an extended-release version that you only need to take once a day, which can be handy if you have difficulty remembering to take medication. The key thing to remember is to take it with food. This can help reduce potential stomach issues.

How effective is metformin for weight loss?

Metformin isn’t primarily a weight loss drug, but it can help people lose some weight. In one study, people with BMIs over 27 lost an average of nearly 13 pounds in six months while taking metformin. 

Metformin works best for weight loss when you pair it with healthy lifestyle changes. Combining it with a balanced diet and regular exercise can really boost your results. Noom can help nail those lifestyle changes, making metformin more effective for you. 

What’s the difference between metformin and other popular medications prescribed for weight loss?

Metformin and popular GLP-1 medications, like Ozempic, Wegovy, Zepbound, and Mounjaro, are all effective for weight loss, but they achieve results through different pathways. For one, metformin is the active ingredient and not the brand name like these other medications. Side effects, pricing, and how they are taken will also vary. Here’s a look at them side by side:

Brand nameGlucophageMounjaroZepboundOzempicWegovy
Active ingredientMetforminTirzepatideTirzepatideSemaglutideSemaglutide
FDA-approved use(s)Type 2 diabetes managementType 2 diabetes managementChronic weight management Type 2 diabetes managementChronic weight management 
AdministrationOral tablet or liquid taken 1-2 times dailyInjection, once weeklyInjection, once weeklyInjection, once weeklyInjection, once weekly
How it worksDecreases glucose production in the liver, regulates blood sugar, and decreases appetiteMimics hormones GLP-1 and GIP, curbing appetite and regulating blood sugarSame as MounjaroMimics hormone GLP-1, curbing appetite and regulating blood sugarSame as Ozempic
Cost per month (without insurance)$10-30 (for generic)$1,000-
Common side effectsNausea, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, stomach pain, constipation, metallic taste in mouthNausea, vomiting, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, and bloatingSame as MounjaroNausea, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, abdominal pain, and fatigueSame as Ozempic

What are the additional benefits of metformin beyond diabetes and weight management? 

Metformin might be prescribed for other conditions: 

What does metformin cost?

The cost of metformin can vary depending on the specific dosage and where you get your prescription filled. But here’s the good news: generic metformin is usually easy on the wallet. A 500 mg oral tablet typically costs around $10-30 for a 30-day supply. Insurance companies are also more likely to cover metformin than GLP-1 medications. 

Metformin side effects and safety considerations

Metformin is generally well-tolerated, but like any medication, it can have side effects. Knowing what to expect can help you and your doctor decide if metformin is a good fit for you.

What are the common side effects of taking metformin?

Here are some things you might experience when taking metformin:

  • Gastrointestinal issues: You might experience nausea, diarrhea, or stomach discomfort. These symptoms are common when starting metformin or increasing the dose. 
  • Metallic taste: Some people notice a metallic taste in their mouth. 

These side effects usually improve as your body adjusts to the medication. Should any of these side effects persist or become troublesome, reach out to your doctor.

What are the potential serious side effects of taking metformin?

Less frequent but potentially more serious side effects can occur with metformin. Here are the ones to consider and how often people experience them. Always contact your doctor right away if you suspect any of these conditions:

Serious Side EffectSymptomsFrequency
Lactic acidosisSevere muscle pain, drowsiness, slow or irregular heartbeat, cold or blue skin, dizziness, fast or difficult breathing, stomach pain with nausea and vomitingRare.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)Shakiness, nervousness, sweating, chills, irritability, confusion, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, weakness, hunger, nausea, headache, and blurred visionRare, more likely when combined with other medications
Vitamin B12 deficiencyFatigue, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite, nerve problems (numbness or tingling in hands and feet), yellowish skinRare, more likely with long-term use or in individuals with risk factors

Are there any health issues that make metformin unsuitable for me?

We’ve talked about how metformin is generally safe, affordable, and effective for weight loss, but there are a few situations where it might not be the best fit for you. As always, talk to your doctor about your health history before starting metformin. They’ll be able to figure out if it’s right for you and keep an eye on how things are going.

Here are some situations where metformin might not be recommended:

  • Kidney problems: If you have severe kidney disease or your kidneys aren’t working as well as they should, metformin might not be the best choice. This is because metformin is mainly removed from your body through your kidneys.
  • Metabolic acidosis: This is a condition where there’s too much acid in your blood. If you have acute or chronic metabolic acidosis, including diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), metformin could potentially worsen the situation.
  • Liver problems: If your liver isn’t functioning properly, it might not be able to process metformin effectively, which could lead to a buildup of the medication in your body.
  • Pregnancy or breastfeeding: If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, talk to your doctor before taking metformin. While it’s generally considered safe in these situations, your doctor can provide personalized guidance and discuss any potential risks or adjustments to your medication.
  • Upcoming surgery or procedures with contrast dye: If you’re scheduled for surgery or an imaging procedure that requires contrast dye, you might need to temporarily stop taking metformin to reduce the risk of complications.

If any of these situations apply to you, don’t worry! There are alternative medications and approaches that might be a better fit for your unique needs. Your doctor or Noom Med can help you identify the best options and develop a personalized plan that prioritizes your safety. 

How Noom can help you succeed with metformin

Now that you’re familiar with the connection between metformin and weight loss, you can explore whether this medication might be a good fit for your needs. If you qualify for Noom Med, we customize our approach based on your unique health history and needs.  We’ll pair you with qualified clinicians who can find the right medication for you and coordinate benefits. Then they’ll help you work toward your goals while managing potential side effects. 

Noom also goes beyond medication by addressing the psychological and behavioral aspects of weight loss. This approach includes:

  • Building healthy habits: Develop a positive relationship with food and exercise.
  • Lifestyle changes: Make lasting changes that support your weight loss journey.
  • Holistic support: Noom combines these strategies to offer a complete approach to weight management.

Our program addresses both the physical and psychological aspects of weight loss, providing you with the tools you need to overcome obstacles and build sustainable habits. 

Note: Metformin and Ozempic are not FDA-approved to treat obesity or for weight loss.