The study included 60 people with autism, ages 6 to 17. The patients were overweight due to the side effects of taking antipsychotic medications for irritability and agitation.
For the study, participants were given either metformin or an inactive placebo for 16 weeks.
Those given metformin had much greater reductions in body mass index (BMI) than those who took the placebo, the findings showed. BMI is an estimate of body fat based on weight and height.
"Our results showed that [gastrointestinal] side effects occurred for more days in the metformin group compared to placebo group, but the large majority of children taking metformin were able to maintain their treatment. Importantly, the metformin didn't cause behavioral changes, such as increased irritability," said lead investigator Michael Aman. He is a retired professor of psychology at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.
Teens with autism are more likely to be overweight than those without developmental disorders. But there has been little study of ways to counteract their weight gains, the researchers said.
In addition, the food preferences of children and teens with autism add to the challenge of managing their weight, the study authors noted.
"It's not the amount that's eaten, rather the food choices that are a byproduct of the cravings and linked to weight gain," Aman said in a university news release.
The study was published Aug. 24 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.More information
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on autism.
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