Study Finds That A Common Diabetes Drug May Help Prevent Long COVID

Most people who come down with a case of COVID can expect to recover within about two weeks, which is the acute phase for COVID (per WebMD). However, if you have symptoms that persist for weeks or even months, then you may have what is commonly known as long COVID. As the name suggests, long COVID is the term used when someone experiences ongoing symptoms and health problems stemming from a COVID infection. Some of these symptoms may include anxiety, brain fog, chest palpitations, depression, dizziness, fatigue, loss of smell or taste, and even insomnia, says the American Medical Association.

There are three main types of long COVID. For some, the symptoms may appear after an initial recovery from COVID. For others, cell damage from the virus may cause ongoing health issues. Most seriously, some people may even experience chronic hospitalization. There are several leading theories on the potential causes of long COVID. For example, some researchers think that the virus lingers in the body and causes inflammation. Others think that the virus can create an autoimmune condition, or that the gut microbiome causes flare-ups of the virus. 

You might wonder if there is any way to prevent long COVID. As it turns out, researchers have recently discovered that metformin, a medication commonly used to treat diabetes, may help stave off the condition. Here's everything you need to know.

Can this diabetes drug help prevent long COVID?

A 2023 preprint study published in the journal The Lancet explored whether or not metformin, a medication used to treat type 2 diabetes, could help prevent the emergence of long COVID, which is estimated to affect around 10% of COVID patients. The researchers found that the group that took metformin experienced an 42% decrease in long COVID when compared to the placebo group. The patients — who were confirmed to have COVID, had shown symptoms for a week or less, and hadn't had a previous COVID infection — received doses of the drug over two weeks, receiving 500 milligrams on day one, then 500 milligrams two times a day for the following four days, and finally 500 milligrams in the morning and 1,000 milligrams in the evening for the last nine days, reports WebMD.

Notably, the participants were those ages 30 to 85 who live with obesity or overweight, which means that those who meet the criteria for obesity or overweight are the ones who may benefit from taking metformin upon diagnosis of COVID. The results also indicated that the earlier metformin treatment was begun after symptoms emerged, the greater the effect might be — those who began taking the drug within four days of showing symptoms had a 64% reduced chance of developing long COVID, while those who took it after four days of symptoms had only a 36% reduction.

Though the research results are promising in indicating metformin as a possible preventative measure against long COVID, the authors emphasize that more research is needed to determine if the drug might benefit those who already have long COVID.