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How Well Does the New Weight Loss Medicine Work?

In June, FDA approved a new weight loss medicine, Wegovy. This once-a-week injection works by reducing appetite and improving insulin release.
How Well Does the New Weight Loss Medicine Work?
Feet on scale. Weight loss and diet concept. Woman weighing herself. Fitness lady dieting. Weightloss and dietetics. Dark late night mood.

The FDA recently approved the first new weight loss medicine in seven years. New might not be exactly the best way to describe Wegovy (pronounced wee-GOH’-vee), though. The name is new and so is the dose, but this drug, known generically as semaglutide, was first approved for type 2 diabetes in 2017 under the brand name Ozempic.

How Does the New Weight Loss Medicine Work?

This self-injectable drug helps control blood sugar by increasing insulin release from the pancreas and reducing the amount of glucose released from the liver. Because semaglutide slows stomach emptying and reduces appetite, the manufacturer tested it for weight loss.

In studies, it seems more effective than other weight loss medications (Diabetes, Obesity & Metabolism, Feb. 2021). Over 16 months, people taking Wegovy lost an average of 15% of their body weight (around 35 pounds). Those on placebo lost 2.5%, on average. All of the participants in the trial were asked to exercise and follow a healthy diet. 

In addition, Wegovy may have another advantage. An earlier trial demonstrated that people taking semaglutide were more likely to overcome nonalcoholic fatty liver disorder (New England Journal of Medicine, March 25, 2021).

Adverse Effects of Semaglutide:

Like any medication, the new weight loss medicine has some side effects. Adverse reactions associated with semaglutide include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach ache. About 5 percent of volunteers in clinical trials dropped out because of these side effects. A cynical person might suggest that such side effects in themselves could make a person drop a few pounds. However, they do not seem to be a major factor driving the weight loss associated with Wegovy (BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care, Oct. 2020). 

Wegovy might also cause some more serious complications. Semaglutide has been linked to thyroid tumors, pancreatitis, gallbladder problems, kidney trouble and depression.

What Will It Cost?

One other possible pitfall: It is not yet clear how much Wegovy will cost, but Ozempic can run over $800 a month for people without insurance. Many insurance companies do not pay for weight loss medicine; it remains to be seen if they will cover Wegovy. 

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Citations
  • Bray GA & Ryan DH, "Evidence-based weight loss interventions: Individualized treatment options to maximize patient outcomes." Diabetes, Obesity & Metabolism, Feb. 2021. DOI: 10.1111/dom.14200
  • Newsome PN et al, "A Placebo-Controlled Trial of Subcutaneous Semaglutide in Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis." New England Journal of Medicine, March 25, 2021. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2028395
  • Lingvay I et al, "Superior weight loss with once-weekly semaglutide versus other glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists is independent of gastrointestinal adverse events." BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care, Oct. 2020. DOI: 10.1136/bmjdrc-2020-001706
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