The search for new treatments and medications for weight loss is an important topic for many Americans. Two-thirds of adult Americans are overweight. The struggle to lose and maintain a healthy weight can be incredibly frustrating. These individuals often feel isolated and alone in their constant battle to lose weight, but most Americans share this same struggle. Obesity is a complex disease; trying to eat healthily and exercise should always be a priority, but many patients struggle to lose weight despite these efforts. Fortunately, some new players are in the market to help our patients lose and maintain their weight.
Many patients have heard of these new medications on the market but have many questions about these new drugs. I will try to help clarify these drugs, how they work, benefits, side effects, and risks.
There are currently two medications in this newer class of drugs called the GLP-1s approved for weight loss. Semaglutide (marketed as Wegovy) and Liraglutide (marketed as Saxenda). These medications work by mimicking a hormone in our body called GLP-1, which prompts our body to produce insulin after eating, increasing insulin levels. It helps lower blood sugar, which is how these medications help our diabetic patients. In higher dosages, it also helps with the signal in our brain that helps regulate our appetite and curbs our hunger. These medications also slow down digestion. When food enters the stomach, it delays movement to the small intestine, making us feel full more quickly and for a more extended period.
Semaglutide (Wegovy) is an injection given once/a week in a deep layer of your skin that is made up of fat, most commonly injected into the abdomen. Liraglutide (Saxenda) is an injection administered daily in a deep layer of your skin that is made up mostly of fat tissue. Semaglutide is more effective for weight loss than Liraglutide. Studies show that individuals who work on increasing exercise, eating a healthy diet, and using Semaglutide lost an average of 15-20% of their body weight over 68 weeks. This study compared patients who worked on diet and exercise only without Semaglutide lost an average of two percent of their weight. For example, a patient who weighs 200lbs could lose up to 40lbs with the help of this medication.
You can expect to experience side effects with these medications. The most common side effects include nausea, bloating, and constipation. They can also cause headaches, dizziness, and even vomiting.
These medications can be a significant inhibitor for patients, as the average retail cost is around $1300 for a month’s supply. Insurance can help reduce this cost, but unfortunately, not all insurance providers cover weight loss medications.
These medications should not be used in patients with a family history of medullary thyroid cancer or a history of pancreatitis. For patients who have failed to lose weight by changing their diet and exercising, these medications might be helpful to kickstart weight loss and achieve a healthy BMI.