For the first time since 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new drug treatment for chronic weight management. The drug, called Wegovy (generic: semaglutide), was initially prescribed for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, but researchers have found that it also can be helpful for people with a high BMI who haven’t had success with other weight loss methods. This new approval comes at a time when nearly 70% of Americans are either overweight or obese, designations that are also strongly associated with a series of negative health outcomes.
Previously known as the antidiabetic drug Ozempic, Wegovy is the brand name for a new version of a medication called semaglutide that is specifically meant for weight management treatment. Semaglutide mimics the hormone known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), a substance that affects the areas of the brain that help regulate food intake and appetite. The drug has several key functions:
Wegovy is administered via subcutaneous injection; as with insulin medication, injection under the skin allows slow and steady absorption of the medication for maximum effect. Because of the potential for gastrointestinal side effects, the dose is increased gradually over a period of 16 to 20 weeks to a full dose of 2.4 mg once a week. While the FDA has determined the drug is safe for the public, it isn’t meant to be combined with other weight loss medications or other products that contain semaglutide.
“The release of 2.4mg semaglutide is a very important development in the field of obesity treatment,” said Dr. Christopher McGowan, founder of True You Weight Loss. “We are in desperate need of additional safe and effective treatments for weight, and Wegovy is more effective than any prior medication. More importantly, this is the beginning of a shift in the field toward viewing and treating obesity as a chronic condition in need of long-term, continuous therapy.”
Wegovy is intended for obese or overweight patients who have a relatively high body mass index (BMI). To qualify, a patient must have a BMI of 30 or higher or a BMI of 27 or higher with an additional obesity-related health problem (such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol). Furthermore, the drug is intended to supplement a habit of increased physical activity as well as a reduced calorie diet; Wegovy alone isn’t likely to have the intended outcome of weight loss.
FDA approval came after a robust series of placebo-controlled trials with thousands of participants of varying ages. In one of the most successful trials, participants had an average initial body weight of 231 pounds and a BMI of 38. People who received Wegovy lost an average of 14.9% of their initial body weight (a loss of about 33 pounds) during the 68-week trial. Those who received a placebo lost only 2.4% of their body weight. Due to its impact on both weight loss and blood sugar control, Wegovy is also still especially effective for people with type 2 diabetes.
The prolonged dosage increase and the use of subcutaneous injection are aimed at helping the body slowly adjust to the medication, but there are some possible side effects. The impact on bowel motility in particular can have adverse effects on the gastrointestinal tract; nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, or indigestion are some of the more common side effects. People with type 2 diabetes may even experience hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) due to the drug’s effect on insulin production.
Many people turn to a weight loss plan for cosmetic reasons; they want to have a trimmer figure staring back at them in the mirror. The truth is, though, that obesity is highly connected to a wide variety of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer. Indeed, obesity is ultimately one of the main causes of preventable early death in the United States and elsewhere around the world. Sadly, this trend has only been increasing in the last few decades.
Assuming a starting BMI of 25 or higher, even a 5-10% reduction of total body weight can significantly reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease and other obesity-related conditions. Moreover, reducing body weight has even been shown to increase life expectancy for this group. Losing extra weight also has many other benefits to one’s health and lifestyle that go beyond avoid disease: improved mood and emotional state, higher energy levels, less money spent on food, improved immune function, and generally improved wellbeing.
Although Wegovy has had very promising preliminary results, it shouldn’t be viewed as a silver bullet for obesity or overweight. Dr. McGowan has noted that a medication like Wegovy can be instrumental to the weight loss process, but “really you need to be in a team program that has nutrition support and physician support so that you can really do your best.” The best program for an individual will involve a commitment to making lifestyle changes in addition to any medical intervention.
So while Wegovy may be an excellent choice for some people, it isn’t necessarily the only or best option. At True You, we understand that a successful weight loss program may look different for different people. For those who have tried traditional methods like restrictive dieting and an exercise plan, success at best is a brief reduction in weight followed by adding it right back. Even with medications like Wegovy, success can be brief and fleeting if not paired with a support system and guidance on how to adjust one’s lifestyle.
In light of this tendency for mixed results and yo-yo dieting, True You offers a number of medical weight loss procedures that have proven to be some of the most effective long term weight loss solutions. One of our most popular options is called endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG); in this incisionless procedure, an endoscope is used to reduce stomach volume and thereby limit the amount of food that can be eaten in a sitting. Over time, the smaller stomach space encourages better eating habits while also causing a caloric deficit that will lead to fat burning.
A similar bariatric surgical procedure would require multiple abdominal incisions and around six weeks of recovery time. With ESG, though, the whole procedure is performed with an endoscope that has been inserted through the esophagus and down into the stomach. This means no incisions, few possible complications, and a recovery period that only lasts a matter of days. With ESG, patients have lost an average of 20% of total body weight loss within the first year; this amount of weight loss surpasses many bariatric surgeries as well as medical treatments.
If, like many Americans, you have tried countless diets and exercise regimens without lasting success, it may be time to consider an alternative. Wegovy and other weight management medications have demonstrated some success, but they are only one possible approach. At True You, we are passionate about helping people find a way to lose weight that will be successful for them over the long term. If you would like to learn more about Wegovy or any of our weight loss solutions, please contact us today to request a consultation.