Diabetes drug can help youth tackle weight gain side-effect of bipolar medication

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New York, Oct 29 (IANS) A new large-scale study has found that drug metformin, typically used for type 2 diabetes, can help prevent or reduce weight gain in youth taking medication to treat bipolar disorder.

Metformin is known to also prevent weight gain but psychiatrists surveyed initially said they did not feel comfortable prescribing it, leading to the study testing metformin’s effect.

Medications to treat bipolar disorder, known as second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs), are often effective at helping young patients’ mental health improve but can have significant side effects including elevated blood pressure and glucose, increased appetite and weight gain.

A total of 1,565 patients aged 8-19 with bipolar disorder taking SGAs were enrolled in the study, led by researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) and Northwell Health, New York’s largest healthcare provider.

The study found 33 per cent of youth enrolled had metabolic syndrome at the start.

“The key elements of metabolic syndrome are obesity, high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides and elevated glucose,” said UC’s Jeffrey Welge, a child/adolescent psychiatrist.

In the short-term follow-up data, metformin had a modest but significant effect at preventing and, in some cases, reversing weight gain in the study’s patient population.

The drug was also found to be safe, with some gastrointestinal distress symptoms being the only side effects reported.

“The lifestyle is really what’s driving good outcomes, but metformin is in some cases putting the wind at their back to help with that,” Welge added.

While having an effect on weight gain, metformin was not found to have a significant effect on youth’s metabolic syndrome in the short term.

The weight gain side effects can also lead to life-long harmful health outcomes.

“So you’re not just looking at the mental health, but you’re looking at the physical health of the whole person,” said Christina Klein, a research scientist in UC’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience.

“Further research is needed on effective interventions for metabolic syndrome,” added Northwell’s Claudine Higdon.

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