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What Is the Connection between Metformin and Insulin Sensitivity?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The most important connection between metformin and insulin sensitivity is that the medication improves how well insulin receptors work. Metformin doesn’t raise insulin levels, but it does lower glucose levels, while helping the body’s insulin receptors more effectively function to allow passage of glucose from the blood to the other cells. Many medical professionals stress the importance of this drug because when it is used in pre-diabetic states it may help prevent or delay the development of diabetes Type II. As a treatment for individuals with Type II, it may sometimes be used alone without insulin supplementation.

In a healthy person, glucose in the blood passes to the cells when insulin receptors are signaled by the presence of insulin. This rids the blood of excess glucose, which would otherwise create a hyperglycemic state that can cause organ and tissue damage. Patients who are pre-diabetic or who have diabetes II often have poor insulin production, high blood sugar, and insulin receptors that are sensitized to insulin. Sluggish receptors don’t work as efficiently in moving glucose from the blood to the cells.

The connection between metformin and insulin sensitivity is extremely important. Since metformin can act on the receptors to make them more responsive, this translates to an increased ability to regulate blood sugar. At the same time, the drug reduces the work of moving glucose to cells by reducing the liver’s manufacture of glucose from energy supplies. This means the body now has more active receptors and less sugar to move. Therefore, it makes efficient use of a lower insulin supply.

There are limits to the benefits of the connection between metformin and insulin sensitivity. If the pancreas continues to lower its insulin production, as may occur in more advanced stages of diabetes Type II, stimulating the insulin receptors isn’t adequate. The body may need supplemental insulin, in the form of injections, to process sugars. In conditions like diabetes Type I, the relationship between metformin and insulin sensitivity is less important because body production of insulin is minimal to none, and the receptors can’t work without it. Sensitive receptors aren’t effective if there is no insulin to help move glucose from the bloodstream to the cells.

It’s thus easy to define when the correlation between metformin and insulin sensitivity is most important. In the case of diabetes Type II or in pre-diabetic states, insulin is still being produced, which means metformin could be indicated. Some medical professionals recommended that pre-diabetics and those in the early stages of Type II be prescribed metformin as these patients will most benefit from the drug.

There are studies that link metformin in pre-diabetes to slowed or halted progression of the disease. On the other hand, diet, exercise and weight loss are still more effective. In early Type II, metformin has also been shown to be beneficial without insulin injections. Use of the drug may help extend the time before insulin is required, especially when it is combined with behavioral changes that help better regulate blood sugar.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
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Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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