It looks like there’s a new weight loss wonder drug on the market.
I’m talking about semaglutide, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017.
Of course, it wasn’t originally intended as a “diet pill.” It was actually designed to help control type 2 diabetes. But the fact that it’s now being touted for weight loss isn’t a big surprise—other diabetes drugs have been used in this fashion for decades.
Since this one is making headlines as the latest and greatest, though, let’s take a closer look…
As effective as surgery
For the science nerds out there, semaglutide is what we call a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonist. Your cells generate GLP-1 in your intestines. Levels rise after a meal, which helps signal to your brain that you’re full.
So it’s not hard to see how any drug that would facilitate this process might act as an effective appetite suppressant as well.
To analyze its effects, researchers looked at nearly 2,000 adults. The average body mass index (BMI) was 38, and the average weight was 231 pounds. And a good 75 percent of the subjects had at least one coexisting condition.
All of the subjects received monthly diet counseling sessions. They were encouraged to cut calories by 500 a day and to work up to walking a total of 150 minutes per week. And they all logged their daily diet and exercise details.
After 68 weeks, the subjects who took semaglutide enjoyed significantly greater weight loss—33 pounds versus only six pounds among the placebo group. They were also dramatically more likely to lose anywhere from five to 15 percent of their starting weight.
Ultimately, semaglutide delivered the same weight loss benefits of sleeve gastrectomy—but without the risks and recovery of surgery. And unlike a lot of other common appetite suppressants, semaglutide caused no psychological or psychiatric symptoms. It also doesn’t appear to be addictive.
But the news here isn’t all good—in fact, there were many gastrointestinal side effects, like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. (Which is pretty par for the course with diabetic drugs, like metformin.) Gallstones also appeared to be a major side effect. But, ultimately, less than five percent of the study participants had to quit the trial due to these problems.
No substitute for eating right
As you well know by now, I’m not a big fan of drugs of any kind. But I have to say, I’m happy to see that we may have finally found a solution to help patients who can’t seem to help themselves. (And that population is only getting bigger, with the global diabesity crisis escalating by the day.)
Sure, there’s bariatric surgery. But I only support this approach in extreme situations. The fact is, just like any surgery, it’s dangerous. And many patients regain the weight because they just don’t like to change their behavior—at least, not for a long enough time to solve their health problems.
That’s why I’m happy to see someone other than me taking the health dangers of obesity seriously. Just remember… while semaglutide may look like a breakthrough now, we still don’t know what we’ll find 10, 20, or 30 years down the road. (So don’t expect me to become a shill for Big Pharma anytime soon.)
And that, once again, leads me to my long-standing recommendation to achieve any health goal: Through diet and exercise.
Of course, my A-List Diet will always be my first prescription for weight loss that lasts a lifetime. But the key is consistently eating healthy foods—like fresh produce, full-fat dairy, lean meats, eggs, and nuts.
As for exercise, as always, aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week—like dancing, bike riding, or even just taking a brisk walk in the sunshine. (And don’t forget, you don’t have to achieve your daily goal in one long workout. Every little bit throughout the day adds up!)
“Semaglutide for Weight Loss? A Good First STEP, With Caveats.” Medscape Medical News, 02/10/21. (medscape.com/viewarticle/945630)