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Insulin and Weight Loss: New Study Shows Drug Used to Treat Type 2 Diabetes May Help Dramatically Trim Excess Weight

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The name of the medication may be a mouthful – semaglutide – but if you or someone you know has type 2 diabetes, that name might be familiar. The drug has been on the market since 2017, available by prescription as a tool to help treat type 2 diabetes. Now, according to this article from the Healthline website,  the company that manufactures the drug has just released a study showing that patients who took semaglutide for their underlying health condition also enjoyed a significant bonus: they lost impressive amounts of excess weight.

Chances are most people with type 2 diabetes know this drug by its more common brand names, Ozempic and Rybelsus. But whatever you call it, this drug could prove to offer a big step forward for many of the 33 million Americans with the disease. Let’s take a look and see what all the excitement is about.

Regulating the Pancreas Aids Weight Loss

The key to the impressive weight loss, the article explains, lies in the control of insulin. The Healthline report begins, “The drug semaglutide is used to treat type 2 diabetes by regulating how the pancreas releases insulin. However, the drug, sold under the brand names Ozempic and Rybelsus, also may have potential as a weight-control aid because it appears to reduce appetite, craving for food, and energy intake.”

A new study by Novo Nordisk—the manufacturer of Ozempic—was just published in the journal   Diabetes Obesity and MetabolismIt’s one of the major moves the company is making to apply for approval of semaglutide for treatment of obesity in the United States. The release of the study data will be followed by a phase 3 clinical trial.

Feeling Fuller, Less Hungry

How does semaglutide work? The terms sound confusing but the idea is straightforward.

The article states, “Semaglutide is in a class of drugs known as ‘glucagon-like peptide-1′ (GLP-1) agonists.” (Glucagon is a substance the body uses to adjust blood sugar levels. An agonist is a chemical that initiates a biological response.) The drug basically stimulates the body to behave in a certain way to control the release of insulin.

Dr. Dorthe Skovgaard, who leads the Novo Nordisk research team, is researching the effect the drug has on digestion (called gastric emptying), energy intake, appetite, and control of eating among obese people in the study group. She explains, “GLP-1s are known to affect body weight by decreasing energy intake, increasing feelings of satiety and fullness, and decreasing hunger. So, the mechanism of action of semaglutide held great potential for a treatment of obesity. In addition, several clinical trials with people with type 2 diabetes had demonstrated the weight loss benefits of semaglutide.”

Significant Weight Loss Reported

The key in all of this technical speak is that semaglutide did not seem to delay gastric emptying – in other words, food was moved through the stomach at a normal rate – yet people reported being less hungry and less interested in eating, as well as more satisfied after they did eat. And results were impressive.

“Weight loss of 15-18 percent was reported among the study group taking semaglutide,” the article states. “More significant weight loss was reported among both obese and overweight individuals.”

The study itself concluded that, when semaglutide was administered to obese patients at a weekly does that is about 2.4 times higher than the dosage used to control diabetes (2.4 mg per week versus 1 mg), the drug “suppressed appetite and reduced the frequency and strength of food cravings. Control of appetite and reduced frequency and strength of food cravings are important for weight management in people living in obesity, especially in a society which promotes unhealthy lifestyles and overeating.”

A Second, Similar Drug Also Aids Weight Loss

Skovgaard reported that there is another FDA-approved drug for weight loss, a GLP-1 drug called “liraglutide” (sold as Saxenda). It also increases feelings of satiety and fullness and decreases hunger. But Skovgaard does not believe that liraglutide is the premium option, noting, “the reduction in energy intake and the weight loss observed with semaglutide is greater than with liraglutide.”

Experts in diabetes and weight loss are excited about the results, calling them unmatched by other drugs. Dr. Kim Boyd of the health program Calibrate remarked, “Clinical studies have shown that this new dosage leads to an average weight loss of 15 percent (and over 20 percent in a third of participants) that is sustained for over a year. This is more effective than any other FDA-approved weight-loss medication on the market.”

Patients Enjoy Double Benefits

For patients who are both obese and suffer from diabetes, these GLP-1 drugs could be a life-saver, in more ways than one.

Many diabetes drugs are associated with weight gain, says Dr. Florencia Halperin of FormHealth. Drugs for diabetes that help you to lose weight have not been seen before. “A fascinating aspect of this is that the effect for improving diabetes is related to how the drug interacts with the pancreas (which secretes insulin) and other organ tissues that regulate blood sugar,” she said. “But weight loss is related to how the drugs affect the networks in our brain that regulate hunger and fullness.”

She added, “My patients who use this medicine report they are less interested in food, and they can feel full from much smaller portions. So, they eat less but are not uncomfortably hungry or feeling deprived, as they might have when they were purposefully restricting calories.”

Drugs Can Help as a “Short-Term” Weight Loss Solution

Experts are quick to add that while medications can be a huge help to certain people with obesity, lifestyle changes to their diet and movement should probably be a first resort.

Morgan Nolte, physical therapist and owner of Weight Loss for Health, put it this way: “Pills are a short-term solution to losing weight. The best long-term weight-loss solution is learning how to live a low insulin lifestyle. This requires a change in mindset and strategy. A low insulin lifestyle not only facilitates long-term weight loss, but also helps lower insulin resistance, thus reducing a person’s risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and arthritis.”

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(originally reported at www.healthline.com)

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