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A Look At the Pros and Cons of Weight Loss Drugs

A class of drugs called GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) receptor agonists have been shown to help people lose weight if they live with obesity or type 2 diabetes. In many cases, they have made weight losses of 10% to 20% possible. These drugs vary in whether they’re FDA-approved for people with diabetes or people without who simply want to lose weight. Two of these drugs — Ozempic and Rybelsus (generic name semaglutide) — have been approved for both diabetes control and weight loss. Others that are designed for weight loss in people without diabetes are Saxenda (liraglutide) and Wegovy (also semaglutide). Doctors at Cleveland Clinic add that Mounjaro (tirzepatide) is approved for diabetes and will likely be approved for weight loss by the end of the year. Dr. A. Enrique Caballero, a Harvard-affiliated endocrinologist, says such drugs can lead to “substantial” weight loss when used in conjunction with healthy lifestyle changes, and this is true for people with or without diabetes. But he adds it is “questionable” whether they can be used safely for all people who simply want to lose 10 or 20 pounds. He says there is not enough evidence to know if such drugs are beneficial or dangerous outside of their approved FDA-criteria. Another issue is people sometimes look to these drugs as a single quick fix to weight loss. But, Dr. Caballeo says, remember that all weight-loss drugs are recommended as part of an overall strategy that includes healthy meal planning and regular physical activity. It’s also known that people who stop taking such drugs often regain their weight without a change in other lifestyle habits. The drugs also can cause a number of negative gastrointestinal side effects. A final concern is that costs of such drugs can be quite high and may not be covered by many drug plans.

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