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Evidence for a role of metformin in preventing olfactory dysfunction among older adults

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S. Assi - V. Vohra - W. Zhang - N.S. Reed - A. P. Lane - M. Ramanathan Jr. - N.R. Rowan

BACKGROUND: Olfactory dysfunction (OD) is increasingly recognized as a hallmark of unhealthy aging and is intimately associated with mortality, but therapies remain elusive. Recognizing the increased prevalence of OD in individuals with diabetes, and the potential anti-aging effects of metformin, we studied the association of metformin use with OD.
METHODS: Cross-temporal study of participants from Waves 2 (2010-11) and 3 (2015-16) of the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (NSHAP), a nationally representative cohort study of community-dwelling older adults. We included participants with diabetes who had complete data on olfaction and relevant covariates at Wave 2 and were not lost to follow-up at Wave 3. Olfactory identification (OI), the ability to identify the odorant, and olfactory sensitivity (OS), the ability to detect the presence of an odorant, were tested. Weighted multivariable logistic regression was used to study the association between metformin use at Wave 2 (baseline) and odds of having impaired OI/OS at Wave 3, adjusted for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, smoking, BMI, HbA1c, years since diabetes diagnosis, and insulin use.
RESULTS: Among 228 participants with diabetes (mean age=70 years, 53% female, 21% Black), 112 (49%) used metformin at baseline. Relative to nonusers, users had 58% lower odds of impaired OI and 67% lower odds of impaired OS at Wave 3. Among participants with normal baseline OS (N=62), users had 97% lower odds of impaired OS at Wave 3.
CONCLUSIONS: Metformin use is associated with lower odds of OD among individuals with diabetes, suggesting a potential protective effect on olfaction. Future work including a larger sample and additional information on metformin use is needed to establish whether these findings are independent of diabetic control.

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