Weighing in.
  • US regulators have approved semaglutide, a drug used to treat type 2 diabetes, for obesity management.
  • Evidence suggests it can help people lose weight by suppressing appetite, as long as they keep taking it.
  • While recorded side effects are minor, some experts are skeptical about long-term safety and limitations.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

American regulators have approved the medication semaglutide for obesity treatment, and some doctors have called it a "game changer."

The drug, in the form of once-weekly 2.4 mg injections, will be prescribed for patients with a body mass index BMI of 30 or more, or a BMI of 27 with related conditions such as diabetes, according to a press release from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The medication, initially developed to treat type 2 diabetes, is the first drug treatment to be FDA approved for weight management since 2014, according to the press release.

The medication can help balance out hormones like insulin, which may curb appetite and allow people to shed pounds by eating less. While side effects are typically mild, some experts are concerned about the safety of its long-term use.

Patients can lose significant weight on semaglutide because it suppresses appetite

Semaglutide can be taken orally or by injection, according to Novo Nordisk, and it works by increasing the production of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps regulate blood sugar.

Previous research found that patients taking the drug lost 15% to 20% of their body weight over 68 weeks, compared to 2.4% in patients taking the placebo.

However, people regain weight if they stop taking the drug

Despite the promising research, there's one major caveat to the medication: in order to keep the weight off, patients need to continue taking it.

One recent study showed that patients on semaglutide lost 10% of their body weight in 20 weeks, but regained nearly all of it after the treatment. In contrast, the study group that kept taking the drug went on to lose another 8% of their body weight.

Known side effects are mild

In some patients, semaglutide can cause minor, temporary symptoms like nausea and diarrhoea.

Dr. Scott Butsch, the director of obesity medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, said that the side effects of semaglutide were no riskier than those of medications used to treat other chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

Fitness gurus and dietitians are skeptical of potential long-term risks

Dieticians worry that the hormone-shifting effects could have unforeseen consequences in the long-term, particularly as it hasn't been tested over years of use.

"I get really concerned about a medication in which the method of action is putting the pancreas into overdrive," Rachael Hartley, a registered dietitian who specialises in intuitive eating and the author of a new book called "Gentle Nutrition," previously told Insider.

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