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Could Semaglutide Be the Answer for Long-Term Weight Control?

Semaglutide, a prescription drug currently used as part of a type 2 diabetes treatment, spent some time in the spotlight at this year’s virtual European Congress on Obesity (held May 10-13, 2021).  The reason was that this medication has been undergoing study as an obesity treatment as well, and the results have been promising so far.

The Researchers Behind Semaglutide

The research was led by Dr. Dorthe Skovgaard and was presented by Novo Nordisk A/S (the drug’s manufacturer), Søborg, Denmark, and colleagues. They showed that Semaglutide has the potential for new drug applications as an obesity treatment.

Currently this glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) analogue class drug is used at a 1.0 mg weekly injection dose for type 2 diabetes treatment. That said, researchers are investigating its use as a weekly 2.4 mg dose for chronic weight management. The drug has not yet received approval for this purpose anywhere in the world. That said, The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently reviewing the new drug applications, as is the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and other health agencies worldwide.

What Does the Science Say?

Semaglutide has undergone the STEP trials, which have been published in medical journals over the last year. That research has established the drug’s safety and efficacy when used at a 2.4 mg weekly dose as an obesity treatment.  It has been shown to reduce body weight by decreasing hunger and appetite, boosting satiety, decreasing food cravings, changing food preferences, and decreasing energy intake. 

The drug’s GLP-1 receptor agonists can cause gastric emptying delays. This could have an impact on the way other drugs taken by a patient would be absorbed by the body. The STEP trial also looked into the impact of the drug on energy intake, gastric emptying, appetite and control over eating among obesity patients given a 2.4 mg weekly dose.

The subjects in this study were adults between the ages of 18 and 65 years old. Their body mass index (BMI) at the start of the research was between 30 to 45, in varying degrees of obesity, without the presence of type 2 diabetes. The trial was randomized, double-blind, parallel group.  The placebo group did not receive the medication, and the group that did receive Semaglutide did so at a gradually escalating rate. The first four weeks’ doses were 0.25 mg, 0.5 mg, 1.0 mg, and 1.7 mg. Then, the participants received the full weekly dose of 2.4 mg for the next 5 weeks. The gradual increases were to improve gastrointestinal tolerability.

Should You Ask Your Doctor for Semaglutide?

While the discussion you could have with your doctor about Semaglutide would likely be a fascinating one, the fact is that this medication simply has not yet received approval for this use.  That said, the research is very promising. Participants who were given unlimited access to food were notably less likely to overeat when using this medication, suggesting that it could be a powerful complement to an obesity treatment involving calorie restricted dieting. The researchers also suggested that Semaglutide may also complement bariatric surgery.