What Are the Side Effects of Obesity Drugs?

The treatment of obesity has been revolutionized by new drugs such as semaglutide and tirzepatide. In clinical trials, these medications led to substantial weight loss — as much as an average of 21% of participants’ body weight — and semaglutide has also been shown to cut the risk of severe cardiovascular problems, which specialists celebrated as a groundbreaking result. But as demand for the drugs increases, there’s a growing interest in investigating their potential side effects. Researchers have been looking into the gastrointestinal problems and loss of muscle mass connected with the medications and shared some findings earlier this month.

Gastrointestinal problems: The latest generation of anti-obesity drugs mimic a hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), which is associated with appetite regulation. Semaglutide was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2017, under the name Ozempic, to treat type 2 diabetes, and later, in 2021, as Wegovy, for the treatment of obesity. Tirzepatide, marketed as Mounjaro, was approved in 2022 to treat diabetes, but is also prescribed off-label for weight loss.

A research letter published last week in JAMA2 looked at a sample of people with obesity in a large health-insurance database. The authors found that the incidence of pancreatitis — inflammation of the pancreas — was 4.6 times higher in people taking semaglutide than in people taking a weight-loss medication that does not mimic GLP-1. The study also found that semaglutide and liraglutide, another GLP-1 medication, were associated with an increased incidence of gastroparesis, a disorder that slows or stops the movement of food from the stomach to the intestine.

Excerpted from nature.com

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