January 01, 2021
A few months ago, when most of us were too busy panicking about the spread of coronavirus, diabetes drugs containing metformin were recalled because it was discovered that they contained contaminants that were linked to cancer.
Drugs containing metformin are used by people who have Type 2 diabetes to keep their blood sugar levels under control. The drugs contain an organic compound called N-nitrosodimethylamine or NDMA. In small doses, NDMA isn’t a huge cause for concern. In fact, we’re all exposed to nitrosamines through lots of different foods and even through drinking water, but the drugs were reported to contain an excessive amount of the cancer causing chemical.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) worked with five firms to recall the drugs from the market. Patrizia Cavazzoni, acting director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research said that the FDA began taking action as soon as they discovered impurities in the drugs. The FDA began investigating the drugs in 2010. Health Canada also recalled the drugs when they found that the drugs contain an abnormal amount of NDMA.
NDMA was also found in some other OTC medications like ranitidine and some blood pressure drugs. Dr. Amir Masoud, a gastroenterologist at Yale and assistant professor of internal medicine, said that chances of developing cancer because of these medications are very low and it’s not something people need to worry about too much, but let’s be honest, finding out that you’ve been taking a drug that you thought was making you better but is instead filling you up with something that can cause cancer is pretty terrifying.
High doses of NDMA can also cause liver, lung, and kidney problems. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it can cause gastric or colorectal cancer. In animals, it’s been shown to cause liver fibrosis and tumors. Health authorities have still not been able to figure out how NDMA gets into medications, but U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that it’s created during industrial processes that involve chemical reactions.
The FDA speculates that NDMA forms when the drug is being made or during the packaging and storing processes. NDMA is also formed in our bodies when we consume certain foods.
If you’ve been taking drugs that have metformin to control your blood sugar levels, the FDA says you shouldn’t stop taking them without talking to your doctor first. If you stop taking the medication suddenly, it can cause hyperglycemia and ketoacidosis. The medication won’t harm you if you continue to take it for a short period of time.
Your doctor will help you find an alternative drug that you can use to control your blood sugar levels. There are other types of medications for diabetes like SGLT2 inhibitors and GLP1 medications. According to Dr. Amir Masoud, abruptly stopping or changing your medication will have a much worse effect on your body than the contaminants that these drugs contain.
The FDA has requested manufacturers to carefully test any new batches they release in the future, so people’s health isn’t compromised.