How do injectable weight-loss medications work? Here’s what to know before meeting with your doctor
- 2 Minutes Read
Injectable weight-loss medications have risen in popularity. But, before talking with your doctor about prescribing one to accompany your weight-loss efforts, here's what you need to know.
Glucagon-like peptide 1, or GLP-1, is a hormone produced naturally in the body. It releases in response to eating, working with your brain and digestive system to slow down how fast food moves through the gut and processes after eating. Wegovy and other brands of injectable weight-loss medication are known as GLP-1 agonist medications which mimic the hormone's action.
GLP-1 receptor agonist medications stimulate the GLP-1 receptors to:
These injectable weight-loss medications reduce cravings and help you feel full on smaller amounts of food.
Liraglutide (sold as Saxenda) was FDA approved in 2014. Used in conjunction with a reduced-calorie diet, it is administered once daily.
Semaglutide (sold as Wegovy) was FDA approved in 2021. It is a once-weekly injection used along with a reduced-calorie diet.
Both medications were initially approved to treat type 2 diabetes. The new indications include treatment of obesity (BMI > 30) without diabetes and in adults with a BMI > 27, along with weight-related health issues. Both medications require a prescription.
One study lasting 68 weeks compared liraglutide to semaglutide for weight loss. Patients taking weekly semaglutide lost 15.8% vs. 6.4% for those taking liraglutide. Note, however, that Novo Nordisk manufactures both drugs and funded this study comparing the effectiveness of these drugs.
Reviews of 10 studies found semaglutide was superior among injectable weight-loss medications at reducing participants’ body weight compared to a placebo.
Acute gallbladder disease
Thyroid cell tumors
Depression or thoughts of suicide
Diabetic retinopathy in individuals with type 2 diabetes
Personal or family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC)
Patients with multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 2 (MEN 2)
Individuals with eating disorders including individuals who are overweight and have an eating disorder
Individuals who are fearful of injections
Because these medications reduce blood sugar, it is recommended to avoid alcohol when taking medicines that can lower blood sugar.
Many health insurance companies do not cover the cost of these injectable weight-loss medications. However, coverage is more common for individuals prescribed these medications to manage their type 2 diabetes. Out-of-pocket costs for the drug can run around $1,500/month.
Weight regain is likely after stopping these medications. Simply put, if you do not address the habits that led to the gain in the first place, weight will come back. However, by making lifestyle changes, you can likely prevent weight regain.
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