For the many who struggle with weight loss, a new class of medications being used to treat obesity may sound like a dream come true.
It turns out, the medications are not new at all. If you have diabetes, you may even be using them already.This class of meds are called GLP-1 receptor agonists. Like all treatment options, they have benefits and drawbacks. Here’s what you need to know about GLP-1 receptor agonists.
GLP-1 receptor agonists have been used since 2005 to treat type 2 diabetes. They work by mimicking a hormone your body produces. The hormone is called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1).
GLP-1 receptor agonists used for diabetes include:
- Ozempic, Rybelsus (semaglutide)
- Trulicity (dulaglutide)
- Victoza (liraglutide)
- Byetta (exenatide)
What is GLP-1?
GLP-1 plays an important role in helping your body manage hunger. When you eat, GLP-1 released in your gut sends a message to your body that says, “I’m satisfied.”
People with diabetes release less of the GLP-1 hormone. Experts now believe that this may also be true in people with obesity.
How do GLP-1 receptor agonists work?
GLP-1 receptor agonists essentially supplement the GLP-1 your body produces with a synthetic form of the hormone. They work by sending your brain the message that it’s time to stop eating. They also slow stomach emptying, increase insulin production and reduce sugar released from the liver.
Which GLP-1 receptor agonists are used for weight loss?
A GLP-1 med approved for weight loss has the same ingredient as one used for diabetes, however it is used for a different reason and sometimes at a different dose. Wegovy (semaglutide) is a GLP-1 med that is currently approved for weight loss. It is given by injection, once per week. Wegovy is approved for weight loss in adults with a BMI of 30 or greater, or a BMI of 27 or greater who also have weight-related medical problems. Mounjaro (tirzepatide) is similar to a GLP-1 receptor agonist. It is a GLP-1 and GIP (glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide) drug that is approved for type 2 diabetes. Doctors are currently prescribing it “off label” for weight loss.
Are GLP-1 receptor agonists right for me?
If you are curious about whether these meds should be a part of your weight-loss journey, here are some things to keep in mind:
- They’re effective for weight loss when paired with diet and exercise. In one Wegovy trial, adults without diabetes who used the drug lost 12.4% of their initial body weight.
- They cut your appetite. By acting like a hormone that suppresses hunger, they make you feel satisfied sooner. Smaller servings will lead to weight loss.
- They help lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. If your doctor determines that GLP-1 meds are a good fit for your diabetes management plan, weight loss can be an added bonus.
- You only need to get the medication once per week if it is being used for weight loss. When prescribed for type 2 diabetes, the meds may be given more frequently.
- They only work as long as you take them. Stop taking the meds and you are likely to see a return of any weight you’ve lost.
- Insurance may not cover them. Patient assistance programs may help with costs in the beginning, however they can expire after some time. Out-of-pocket costs for these meds are quite high.
- Most are given by injection at home. If you dislike needles or have trouble doing self-injection, they may be a challenge for you.
- Like any medication, there are possible side effects. These include nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, headache, tiredness, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn and more. More serious side effects are also possible.
- There’s no guarantee they will work. In studies, they did not help everyone. And most weight-loss studies on these meds have been funded by the manufacturers, which means there might be some bias in the results.
Teladoc primary care doctors currently prescribe these meds for diabetes, but not for weight loss. Your local doctor can help put the pros and cons of using these meds for weight loss into context for your individual situation.
Whether you’re on meds or not, Teladoc coaches are always a valuable resource. Their personalized approach to healthy eating and exercise can help you progress toward any wellness goals.