New weight loss medications
By Helaine Krasner MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN
You may have noticed that there are a lot of commercials for weight loss medications lately. In recent years the FDA approved a class of medications called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists, also known as GLP-1 analogues or incretin mimetics. Two popular drugs are liraglutide and semaglutide, along with newcomer tirzepatide. They are sold under various brand names, mainly as daily or weekly injectables. These medications were developed to treat type 2 diabetes, and a secondary benefit was found to be weight loss. Research studies were done using these medications to specifically study the weight loss effect on individuals with and without diabetes. Based on positive results, a number of GLP-1 medications have now been approved for weight loss.
How do these medications promote weight loss?
GLP-1 is a gastrointestinal hormone that stimulates insulin secretion by the pancreas and increases satiety through direct action on the hypothalamus area of the brain. This has the effect of slowing gastric emptying, keeping you full longer, increasing satiety, and decreasing appetite. Other health benefits include improvements in blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as cardiovascular function.
How do I know if these medications are a good option for me?
If you are not getting adequate results from improvements in dietary and lifestyle behaviors adding a weight loss medication to the equation may provide benefit. These medications are meant to be used in conjunction with healthy lifestyle habits and are not a quick fix or permanent solution for weight loss. Losing even 5-10 percent of body weight can provide significant health benefits. Be aware that weight regain can occur quite rapidly when medication is discontinued. These medications are not recommended for individuals with gastroparesis, inflammatory bowel disease, or those with a history of pancreatitis, or a personal or family history of a rare form of thyroid cancer.
What are the potential side effects?
The most common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, headache, fatigue, indigestion, dizziness, abdominal distention, belching, hypoglycemia, increased heart rate, and flatulence.
What is the cost?
Insurance coverage can vary widely based on individual plan and medical profile. Promotional discount offers may be available for certain medications or through specific pharmacies.
How can I learn more?
Start by speaking with your physician. Not all healthcare providers are knowledgeable in treating overweight and obesity. Consider seeking out a specialist in metabolic and bariatric care with a supervised medical weight management program that includes access to a registered dietitian nutritionist to promote healthy eating patterns that meet your individual needs and preferences.
- Lifestyle modification is the foundation for treating overweight and obesity
- Weight loss medications are considered an important adjunct tool for weight loss
- Several prescription weight loss medications are now available
- Losing as little as 5-10 percent of body weight can result in significant health benefits
- Talk to your physician to learn if medication may be appropriate for you
Collins L, Costello RA. Glucagon-like Peptide-1 Receptor Agonists. [Updated 2023 Jan 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551568/
Helaine Krasner MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN is a registered dietitian nutritionist who takes great pride in helping our Bariatric and Medical Weight Management patients achieve their health and weight loss goals.