What to Know About New “Weight Loss” Drugs & How to Make the Best Decision for Your Health

Shannon Miller

January 26, 2024

Prescription weight loss drugs have taken over headlines in the health and wellness space, leaving many questioning the benefits and safety concerns of these new advancements in pharmaceuticals. Weight loss medications offer a promising solution for individuals struggling with weight management or managing other metabolic health issues. Understanding how the mechanisms of these medications work, as well as safety concerns, can help you and your healthcare provider make the best decision for your health.

It’s not shocking that obesity and overweight are still on the rise in the U.S. There are numerous factors that are associated with weight gain, and oftentimes these factors are out of an individual’s direct control. In an “ideal” world, those struggling with weight could simply eat less and workout more to shed pounds and keep them off. However, there is a misunderstood complexity around weight loss and many face difficulties losing weight due to metabolic conditions, genetics, or other existing health issues. Weight loss medications offer a new strategy to aid individuals in losing weight and improving their health, but they must be prescribed safely and overseen by a medical professional to reduce risk of complications and over-reliance. The latest of these medications that are gaining attention in the healthcare industry are a classified group of peptides called “GLP-1s.”

What are GLP-1s?

Among the latest breakthroughs in weight loss medications are GLP-1s, a class of prescription drugs that show significant potential in aiding weight loss. GLP-1s, or glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists, are a class of medications originally developed to treat type 2 diabetes. However, their effects on weight loss among those without type 2 diabetes have gained momentum among healthcare professionals and consumers alike. Among the well-known hormone receptor peptides are semaglutide and tirzepatide, recognized as brand names “Ozempic” or “Wegovy” and “Zepbound” and “Mounjaro®,” respectively, to name a few.

GLP-1s primarily work by mimicking the natural hormone GLP-1, which regulates blood sugar levels and promotes a feeling of fullness. By activating the GLP-1 receptor, these drugs enhance insulin secretion, reduce appetite, and slow down the emptying of the stomach. Clinical trials have demonstrated the efficacy of GLP-1s in promoting weight loss. Individuals using these medications have experienced significant reductions in body weight compared to those taking a placebo.

While only taking a medication to assist with weight loss is tempting, prescription weight loss drugs like GLP-1s are most effective when combined with healthy lifestyle modifications. Healthy eating habits, regular physical activity, and other lifestyle changes contribute synergistically to achieving sustainable weight loss. These medications are also not typically recommended for long-term use unless medically necessary, so it is important for an individual to still create a healthy mindset around nutrition and exercise to maintain healthy lifestyle after coming off of a medication.

Weight loss drugs & body composition

Clinically, weight loss medications are designed to help individuals “lose weight.” However, losing “weight” is not the same as losing “fat,” if that is your goal. There have been cited concerns about weight loss drugs linking to a loss in lean muscle mass, especially in cases where dosing is not carefully monitored. Losing muscle mass can affect overall metabolism and interfere with long-term weight loss after an individual comes off of a GLP-1 medication. However, muscle mass is not necessarily a pre-determined fate for those who choose to use these types of medications to support weight loss. Specific dosing and a keen focus on strength training and nutrition can help prevent muscle loss. Guidance from a medical expert in GLP-1s can help prevent body composition-related consequences and provide you with a personalized plan and counseling around your specific lifestyle, health history, and goals.

Safety considerations

While the weight loss benefits of GLP-1s are promising, ensuring safety is paramount. Healthcare providers who specialize in weight management play a crucial role in determining the suitability of GLP-1s for an individual patient and are trained to carefully assess patient eligibility, considering potential risks before prescribing these medications. Clear communication around side-effects is also important. Common side effects of GLP-1s include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, but these often subside as the body adjusts to the treatment.  Factors such as medical history, existing health conditions, and medication interactions should also be carefully considered. Finally, regular monitoring is essential to address any emerging concerns and ensure the ongoing efficacy of the treatment.

Weight loss drugs offer a promising avenue for individuals striving to reach and maintain a healthy weight. However, this approach is best when viewed as a “tool” rather than a singular solution. It is also crucial to approach these treatments with a focus on safety, combining expertly monitored pharmaceutical interventions with comprehensive lifestyle changes. As research progresses, the integration of new prescription weight loss drugs like GLP-1s into holistic weight management strategies may pave the way for more effective and sustainable solutions to help individuals struggling with weight loss.

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider to address your specific health concerns.  

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