All About the New Weight Loss Drugs
New weight loss drugs have become increasingly popular. From TikTok influencers and celebrities promoting the results, it can seem like they are the magic bullet for weight loss. But first, let’s take a deep dive into what they are, how they are used, benefits, side effects, the long-term impact, and alternatives.
These medications belong to a group of medications known as GLP-1 agonists. It is generally injected once a week. The drugs mimic a hormone called GLP-1, which tells the pancreas to release more insulin which helps improve blood sugar. Because of the role of this hormone plays and its impact on blood sugar control, it was originally prescribed for the treatment of diabetes only. While using this medication, weight loss was often achieved in these patients with diabetes. And over the past year or so, it has been frequently prescribed off label to individuals who can benefit from weight loss. Having a BMI of 27 or higher and at least one weight-related health condition or having a BMI of 30 or higher regardless of other health issues is often the criteria for being eligible for a GLP-1 agonist.
GLP-1 agonists help control appetite and slow down stomach emptying. This results in people having less appetite and feeling fuller longer, which equates to eating less. Some people notice they eat less because they don’t have as much pleasure from food as well.
For some, weight loss drugs may be recommended and may be a good option for them. With more than 70% of American adults overweight or obese and high rates of weight-related health conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes new options for controlling weight are important to improve the health and financial strain of these health conditions.
The injectable medication has been shown to be very effective in helping people lose weight and gain better control of their health. One study from the New England Journal of Medicine found that the once-a-week injection resulted in an average of 15% weight loss in 16 months. That would equate to about 30 pounds for someone starting at 200 pounds.
Unfortunately, this class of drugs come with some unpleasant side effects. Gastrointestinal issues are the most common side effects including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, loss of appetite, and sometimes acid reflux. Low blood sugar is also a serious side effect of these medications.For some people, the side effects can become so bothersome that they find it hard to continue the medication. Others find that it helps them feel better and experience more energy, appetite control, and feel better overall.
Our Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating ambassadors, mostly comprised of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, shared some of their experiences with working with patients on GLP-1 agonists. Many of them commented that these medications were a helpful tool for people managing diabetes. However, some reported concerns related to long-term side effects and finding that patients met for malnutrition because of a significant loss of appetite and weight loss. All of them commented that it is still important to focus on adequate nutrition and healthy lifestyles.
Another obstacle people have in using these medications is that they are very expensive, averaging close to $1400 a month, and not covered by all insurance plans. Because the cost is outside of many people’s budgets, some people may start on the medication and not be able to stay on it for long because of the financial strain.
There is no agreement on how long this drug should be used. There isn’t enough data to know the effect of long-term use. While many people find that they achieve weight loss and improve different weight-related issues when taking the medication, these effects do not appear to last for most people once they discontinue the medication.
About two-thirds of people regain their weight loss after stopping a GLP-1 agonists within 1 year, and sometimes this happens very quickly. There are reports of feeling hungrier and craving more sweets once off the medicine. This is an important consideration because if using the medicine to help improve health conditions, having symptoms such as weight regain, decreased energy, and increased appetite (especially for less healthy foods) could ultimately worsen the health conditions that they were trying to improve.
If using this medication, it is critical to use it as only one part of a holistic, healthy weight loss program. The importance of eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly cannot be understated! A healthy diet can help meet all nutrient needs, prevent future health issues, and help set someone up for continued success after weight loss medications.