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What Is Semaglutide And Why Is It Used For Weight Loss?

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Many people struggle to maintain a healthy weight. When you are overweight and trying to lose weight, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the vast number of diets, supplements, and treatments claiming to promote weight loss. If you have tried multiple methods without lasting success, you may be considering trying a prescription weight loss aid and heard about semaglutide. But what exactly is semaglutide, and how does it work? Is it the right choice for you? Keep reading to learn more.

What is Semaglutide?

Semaglutide is a prescription medication used to treat a few different conditions. It is available under three different brand names, each of which is used for a different purpose.

  • Rybelsus is a tablet taken orally once per day to treat type 2 diabetes. It helps lower blood sugar.
  • Ozempic is an injectable medication administered once per week to help lower blood sugar levels for type 2 diabetics, help lower the risk of heart attack or stroke in type 2 diabetics with cardiovascular disease, and help manage weight loss (off-label).
  • Wegovy is an injectable medication administered once per week used for weight management in patients with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher, or in patients with a BMI of 27 or higher who also have one or more weight-related condition(s), like type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.

How does semaglutide work?

Semaglutide is an incretin mimetic, a type of receptor agonist that mimics a hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1). It stimulates the production of insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar levels and delays the emptying of the stomach. This also results in reduced appetite, which can support restricted-calorie diet changes.

It is important to note that semaglutide is designed to enhance the results of a healthy diet and exercise, whether prescribed for type 2 diabetes, to lower the risk of heart attack or stroke, or to manage weight. Without lifestyle changes that include a healthy diet and exercise, you are unlikely to get the desired results from semaglutide. Your healthcare provider can recommend a healthy diet and appropriate exercise routine to help you get the best results from semaglutide.

What are studies saying about semaglutide?

For the purposes of this article, we will focus on Wegovy, the form of semaglutide designed to help with weight management.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed two trials in its announcement approving Wegovy (semaglutide) for weight loss . The first trial, which involved adults without diabetes who had an average BMI of 38, found that Wegovy helped participants lose an average of 12.4% of their starting weight compared to those who focused on diet and exercise alone1. The second trial focused on adults with type 2 diabetes who had an average BMI of 36. Participants in this trial lost 6.2% of their starting weight compared to those who received the placebo2.

As stated before, Ozempic is a different form of semaglutide that can be prescribed off-label for weight management. Sometimes drugs are prescribed by doctors to address health concerns outside of the purpose approved by the FDA, which is referred to as “off-label” use. If you are uncertain why your doctor prescribed Ozempic for weight management instead of Wegovy, you can ask them to explain further.

Why is semaglutide used in weight loss therapy?

If you have type 2 diabetes and are looking for help with weight loss, you may also be looking into tirzepatide (currently marketed under the brand name Mounjaro). So how does semaglutide compare?

It’s important to note that tirzepatide has not been FDA-approved for weight management, though late-stage trials are currently underway. In a study examining Mounjaro as a type 2 diabetes treatment, participants lost an average of 12 more pounds than those taking semaglutide. However, until more trials are completed, it is not fully clear how tirzepatide compares to semaglutide as a dedicated weight loss aid, as previous trials focused on comparing their efficacy in treating type 2 diabetes3.

Wegovy (semaglutide) is FDA-approved for long-term weight loss and weight management . Wegovy and tirzepatide work similarly, and thus have similar side effects and risks. However, there is no information available at this time indicating whether tirzepatide is safe for long-term weight management.

Semaglutide side effects

There are some risks and side effects to consider before taking Wegovy (semaglutide) for weight loss. Side effects may vary depending on other factors, such as age, the prescription medications you may be taking, and any other health conditions you may have. Mild side effects typically go away within a few days to a couple of weeks.

Common side effects of semaglutide include:

  • Gas, bloating, abdominal pain, or burping
  • Nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea
  • Heartburn, indigestion, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Fatigue, dizziness, or headache
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Precautions

  • People with a history of medullary thyroid carcinoma (a type of thyroid cancer) should avoid taking semaglutide as it increases the risk of developing cancerous thyroid tumors. People with multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 2, a genetic disorder that may cause thyroid cancer, should also avoid semaglutide.
  • Some people may have an allergic reaction to semaglutide, which is usually mild. Severe reactions are possible but rare.
  • People who are pregnant or breastfeeding should be cautious when using semaglutide, and be sure to discuss their condition with their doctor. Those planning a pregnancy may be advised to stop using semaglutide 2 months before a planned pregnancy.
  • Semaglutide can affect your mental health and may cause depression or suicidal ideation. If you experience any unusual changes in behavior or mood while taking semaglutide, you should contact your doctor right away.
  • Serious side effects of semaglutide that your doctor should be informed of immediately may include:
    • Pancreatitis
    • Gallbladder problems
    • Low blood sugar
    • Increased heart rate

Semaglutide should not be taken with certain medications, including other incretin mimetics. It can also affect other medications you may be taking. Before taking semaglutide, you should undergo a thorough health screening to ensure semaglutide is the right medication for you. You should be sure to detail the medications and supplements you are taking during this screening, as some dosages may need to be adjusted.

Semaglutide cost

The cost of Wegovy (semaglutide for weight loss) can vary depending on several factors, such as your insurance, pharmacy, location, or prescribed dosage. There is currently no generic version of Wegovy. Without insurance, you may be able to get discounts on this medication. You can talk to your doctor or pharmacist to find out how to get the best deal on Wegovy.

Long-term obesity can cause more severe health conditions to develop, which can be costly. Studies show that the medical costs of obese people are over $1,700 more than individuals in the normal weight range. By addressing obesity now and making necessary lifestyle changes to maintain a healthy weight, you can avoid future healthcare expenses.

Last words

Regardless of whether semaglutide is ultimately the right weight loss aid for you, it’s important to seek medical guidance for weight loss. Healthcare professionals can design weight loss plans around your overall health, abilities, and goals. They have the expertise to help identify complications involving your health or other medications that may be making it more difficult to reach your goals. Medically-guided weight loss also ensures your safety, helping you avoid negative drug interactions or dangerous side effects.

While seeking non-prescription weight loss supplements on your own may seem cheaper, it is also far more unreliable. The supplement industry is unregulated, and many products claim to offer results that are not backed by scientific evidence. Even worse, some of these products are inconsistent, failing to contain listed ingredients or containing substances not indicated on the label, which could lead to health issues or negative drug interactions. A doctor can point you toward reliable nonprescription weight loss products that are effective and safe.

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References

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[3] Frías JP, Davies MJ, Rosenstock J, et. al. SURPASS-2 Investigators. Tirzepatide versus Semaglutide Once Weekly in Patients with Type 2 Diabetes. N Engl J Med. 2021 Aug 5;385(6):503-515. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2107519. Epub 2021 Jun 25. PMID: 34170647. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34170647/;