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A drug commonly used to control high glucose levels can help improve life expectancy, researchers reveal.

In the study, patients who took the oral anti-diabetic drug metformin lived longer than non-diabetics. Another anti-diabetic drug sulphonylurea, however, couldn't provide similar benefits.

For the study, researchers looked at 90,463 people who were part of the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink. Of the total, 78,241 were on metformin and the rest 12,222 on sulphonylurea. Life expectancy in the diabetic patients was compared with people without the condition. Life expectancy in the metformin group was better than the rest of the two groups.

"Patients treated with metformin had a small but statistically significant improvement in survival compared with the cohort of non-diabetics, whereas those treated with sulphonylureas had a consistently reduced survival compared with non-diabetic patients. This was true even without any clever statistical manipulation," lead author Professor Craig Currie from Cardiff University, UK, said in a news release.

Researchers said that the drug can provide similar benefits to non-diabetics. "Surprisingly, the findings indicate that this cheap and widely prescribed diabetic drug may have beneficial effects not only on patients with diabetes but also for people without, and interestingly, people with type 1 diabetes," Currie, added.

Health benefits provided by metformin have invited wide attention lately. Previous research has shown that the drug can be used against cancer, cardiovascular diseases and lower risk of diabetes in pre-diabetic patients. Metformin has also been found promising in treating polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), a common disorder in women that leads to irregular menstrual periods, acne, obesity and excess hair growth.

The anti-ageing qualities of metformin have been known for a while. In June this year, Wouter De Haes and colleagues from KU Leuven in Belgium conducted experiments on Caenorhabditis elegans, a tiny roundworm, which has a life span of three weeks and shows more visible symptoms of ageing.

Normally, when the worms get older, they become smaller, wrinkle up and show less mobility. The drug showed promising effects on the worms. They found that prolonged use of metformin led to an increase in the number of toxic oxygen molecules released in the cell and improved cell robustness and longevity.

Though metformin provides unlimited health benefits, it has some side effects too. People who are addicted to alcohol and with some health conditions, including congestive heart failure, kidney and liver disease should avoid metformin, according to the Life Extension Magazine.