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How Does Metformin Work?

By Karen Carter ; Updated July 27, 2017


Metformin is an oral antidiabetic medication used to treat type 2 diabetes, the noninsulin dependent type. Diabetes occurs when the body does not use insulin normally, so it cannot control the level of sugar in the blood naturally. The body burns sugar for energy and the excess unburned sugar is dumped back into the bloodstream. Metformin may be prescribed alone or in combination with other diabetic medications.

How It Works

Metformin assists in lowering blood sugar levels by stimulating the pancreas, the organ that creates insulin in the body. In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas has stopped producing insulin, so Metformin does not work for this type of diabetes. Metformin decreases the level of sugar available from the diet. When the blood sugar level is too low, the liver produces sugar to add to the bloodstream. When the blood sugar level is out of control, the liver loses its ability to sense the blood sugar levels and will pump sugar into the blood even when the sugar level is high. Metformin helps to suppress the production level of sugar by the liver. By lowering the blood sugar level, Metformin helps the body respond to its own insulin production. This promotes the burning of sugar, so the blood sugar level can stabilize at a normal level.

Exercise and Diet

Metformin should not be relied upon as the sole treatment for type 2 diabetes. It is best to combine the medication with exercise and good dietary habits. A diabetic diet is a common sense combination of carbohydrates, protein and fiber. Candy should be limited or entirely cut out of the diet. Failure to exercise and eat right may lead to uncontrolled blood sugar levels. Calorie reduction, weight loss and drinking plenty of water can help make Metformin more efficient. Metformin is not a form of insulin and does not create insulin. It should not be used in place of insulin treatments.


Some of the common side effects of Metformin include abdominal bloating, gas, loss of appetite, metallic taste in the mouth and vomiting. These usually occur in the first couple of weeks of taking the medication. Taking Metformin with food helps reduce nausea and diarrhea. Always take the prescribed dose. Take on a regular schedule to avoid missing doses. If any side effects worse than the ones described here appear, contact your care provider immediately.

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