Obesity is a global pandemic. This multifaceted health issue has created a litany of different theories on the etiology and an endless number of “solutions” yet none seem to make a real dent in the issue. One of these solutions is weight loss drugs. For the most part, many weight loss drugs have failed miserably. Phen Phen which gained popularity in the 90’s was quickly pulled from shelves after a frightening number of deaths and cardiac episodes. Other drugs such as phentermine are amphetamine based. These have unpleasant side effects like anxiety, insomnia and even dependency. Despite these failures, pharmaceutical companies continue with their search for the perfect weight loss drugs. Recently, one in particular is gaining traction; Semaglutide, which is sold under name brands such as Ozempic, Wegovy or Saxenda. What exactly is this drug and is it really effective for weight loss?
Semaglutide is a GLP-1 inhibitor. This medication’s original use was for the treatment of diabetes. Semaglutides activate a regulatory protein found in the beta cells of the pancreases. This stimulates the release of insulin which lowers blood sugar levels. Medical practitioners soon realized patients prescribed this medication were losing weight. Eventually this class of medications was approved for the off-label use of weight loss. This drug appears to be safe as it has been available on the market for years with very few negative effects reported. Compared to other weight loss drugs, Semaglutides are achieving greater success at weight loss. Numerous randomized control trials have reported between 6 and 12% of body weight loss with this medication. There are a few mechanism of action thought to responsible for weight loss. First, user report lower levels of hunger, early satiety and prolonged feelings. Gastric emptying is delayed when taking this medication would most likely explains its effects on satiation and satiety. Some theorize this medication even influences how the body metabolizes food but this is less clear. In short, this medication aids in users in achieving a calorie deficit though deceased hunger and increase satiety.
It seems safe and effective, so should everyone take it? Not necessarily. First, there are side effects. These range from vomiting, headaches and more serious tumor formations. Next, these medications come with a hefty price tag. Most insurance companies don’t even cover the cost. To qualify for this medication, a person needs to be at a BMI of 27 or over, and even more importantly, have complications associated with clinical obesity. IT is not surprising that MedSpas have caught on to this trend and started offering access to it.
At the end of the day, this medication is an expensive way to create a calorie deficit. With or without the medication, sustainable lifestyle changes still need to be made to achieve lasting weight loss and more importantly health. As with any medication, semaglutides are not an excuse to not eat a healthy, well-balanced diet combined with physical exercise. It does appear to be a helpful aid for some but it is not a quick fix!
Cassie Evans is a registered dietitian and a published researcher. She has studied sports nutrition and completed an internship with the University of Miami Sports Nutrition Team and Nova Southeastern University’s sports performance team. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Sports Science and received her CISSN in 2018. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in Human and Sports Performance from the Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions.
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