While Covid, lockdowns and the pandemic in general may seem like a lifetime ago (alongside the fact that back in May, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared that Covid-19 was no longer a recognised "global health emergency") many people still live with the realities and after effects of the virus. Yes, we're talking about Long Covid. (Not to mention anxiety about the new Covid strains spreading across the UK - EG.5 and a subvariant called Eris.)
In short, Long Covid refers to symptoms that linger or surface after a person ought to have recovered from Covid-19, and can last anywhere from weeks to months to years. As per the NHS, the most common symptoms include fatigue, feeling short of breath, loss of smell and muscle aches. But it can also pertain to memory and concentration problems, chest pain or tightness, heart palpitations, insomnia, and depression and anxiety – just to name a few. And right now, the treatment of Long Covid is still very much in its early stages of research.
Which is why new research published in The Lancet, that suggests Metformin (a common medication typically reserved for type 2 diabetes) can help reduce the risk of Long Covid, feels like somewhat of a breakthrough.
Can Metformin really help prevent Long Covid?
Dr Naheed Ali MD, PhD, physician and senior editor at Sleep Bubble (which offers scientific research and expert advice to those suffering from insomnia and exhaustion - symptoms of Long Covid) acknowledges that while Metformin's role in managing diabetes has been well-recognised for years, the "recent discourse on its potential benefits in mitigating the risk of Long Covid is undeniably fascinating."
He also reveals that nearly 10% of individuals diagnosed with Covid-19 experience persistent symptoms, but the new research into Metformin "offers some compelling insights."
For some context, the "study encompassed a diverse group of 1,431 participants, ranging in age from 30 to 85, the majority of whom were overweight or obese," says Dr Ali. "The data suggests that those who were administered Metformin within the first four days of symptom onset witnessed a significant 63% reduction in their risk of developing Long Covid."
Furthermore, he added that even if the drug was introduced after this period, there was still "a notable 42% decrease in risk."
So, what attributes to Metformin's potential efficacy in this context? asks Dr Ali. Well, he explains that beyond its well-established benefits in glucose regulation, "Metformin exhibits antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and anti-thrombotic properties."
However, he warns that it's essential to tread lightly with these results. "One of the study's limitations was its reliance on participant-reported symptoms, which, at times, can be subjective," he notes.
Additionally, Dr Ali says that the focus primarily on a high-risk demographic "warrants a broader evaluation before drawing definitive conclusions." He says that many in the medical community – including himself – advise a more "comprehensive review before deeming Metformin a primary preventive measure against Long Covid."
Are there other treatments that can help prevent Long Covid?
Elsewhere, Dr Ali also says it's worth noting that while Metformin is garnering attention, there are other promising interventions, such as Paxlovid (an antiviral medicine used to treat coronavirus) and proven hygiene practices, that are showing potential in this arena.
"Navigating the medical world, particularly in the context of COVID-19, is akin to traversing a shifting landscape," he continues, adding that – from many years immersed in health research – it's evident that treatments resonate differently across individuals. "This dynamic nature, though intricate, adds a layer of profound depth to our understanding," he says.
On a final note (and while more research is done into the use of Metformin as a potential Long Covid preventer) Dr Ali stresses the importance of self-care alongside medical treatments.
"Getting good sleep, sticking to a healthy diet, and finding moments of calm through mindfulness can really help ease those symptoms."
Side note: While this new research into Metformin could potentially help prevent more people from falling ill with Long Covid, it's important to acknowledge that it might not be that helpful (right now, anyway) for people who are already dealing with the condition.
However, organisations like the British Heart Foundation have already begun work in this space, and have produced a lengthy recovery guide that's available to view on their website. There, it shares tips for boosting mood and mental health, plus expert advice for managing the symptoms of Long Covid, like completing simple strength exercises and breathing techniques to help with shortness of breath. Cardiologist Dr Robert Bell also notes that - for patients who experience "exercise intolerance," and "suffer from fast heart rate (tachycardia) when they exercise and fatigue afterwards" because of Long Covid - some have responded well to treatment with a beta blocker, a medicine that slows the heart rate.
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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