- Drugs like semaglutide and tirzepatide are gaining popularity as weight loss treatments.
- Initially used to treat diabetes, the drugs help moderate appetite and reduce cravings.
- They are considered safe, although research is ongoing and side effects include nausea and loss of interest in food.
A new class of weight-loss drugs, stemming from the treatment of diabetes, is seriously changing the way we think about and approach weight management.
In 2021, the drug semaglutide, dubbed a “game changer” in the industry, officially gained FDA approval to be prescribed for weight loss. In 2022, it has grown in popularity, becoming more widely used and stimulating more searches. In the past year, another promising drug has also been approved as a weight loss treatment.
Here’s what we know about drugs, from their effectiveness to side effects.
Semaglutide has become so popular that it has caused shortages
Semaglutide, originally used to treat diabetes, was approved by the FDA for weight loss in 2021 and is sold under the brand names Wegovy and Ozempic.
The drug acts on a specific hormone called GLP-1 which controls appetite, so patients taking the drug feel fuller. It also helps in the production of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. Research suggests it may help patients lose weight and keep it off if they continue to take the drug.
A similar drug, liraglutide, was approved by the FDA for weight loss in 2014 – the main difference with semaglutide is that it lasts longer, given as weekly injections instead of daily injections, and evidence suggests that it leads to greater weight loss.
Strong demand for semaglutide caused shortages at the end of 2021, which continued this year, according to the FDA.
In the summer of 2022, semaglutide shortages in Australia were linked to a TikTok trend of users sharing weight loss experiences with the drug, sometimes in a misleading way.
Elon Musk added to the media buzz by announcing on Twitter that he was taking it to lose weight. Combined with rumors that the drug was Hollywood’s latest weight loss hack, experts have expressed concern that all the hype could make the drug harder to access for patients who need it, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Patients say it helps reduce cravings for junk food and alcohol
One factor in semaglutide’s popularity has been eye-catching anecdotes from patients who said it made them stop craving foods like bacon and sweets.
The drug makes it easier to practice moderation and portion control, according to patients who take it. The drug works in part by altering the reward center of the brain, disrupting the appeal of hyper-appetizing foods high in salt, fat and sugar.
As a result, it has also shown potential to reduce other types of addiction – some patients have found that it reduces their desire to drink alcohol and helps them reduce their alcohol consumption.
Tirzepatide has promising results but is not yet approved for weight loss
In June 2022, a similar diabetes drug called tirzepatide made headlines after research showed people taking it lost 20% of their body weight in 16 months, Insider’s Rachel Hosie reported.
It works similarly to semaglutide, but has not yet received FDA approval for weight loss.
“We expect it to be approved for the treatment of obesity,” endocrinologist and obesity medicine specialist Dr. Scott Isaacs previously told Insider, although it is unclear. not in what time frame.
However, patients can still access the drug because it has been approved for diabetes, allowing doctors to prescribe it for obesity if they think it will help them.
Tirzepatide has gained popularity in 2022 in part because of a discount making the drug more affordable, but long-term access is a concern because insurance rarely covers weight-loss drugs, Isaacs said.
Weight-loss drugs are considered safe, but can cause side effects like nausea
Both semaglutide and tirzepatide work for weight loss by decreasing appetite, making patients less likely to overeat. But they can also cause unpleasant symptoms, including nausea and diarrhea.
In some cases, appetite suppressant effects can prevent people from enjoying food, causing disgust or indigestion when they try to eat previously enjoyed treats like chocolate, fried chicken or even coffee, previously reported. Insider’s Anna Medaris.
More research is needed to assess the drugs’ long-term effects, but current evidence suggests they can be used safely and effectively to treat patients, said Dr. W. Scott Butsch, chief medical officer of obesity at the Cleveland Clinic, to Insider.
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