Strides in the medical field have ushered in new ways to manage type 2 diabetes. One of the most popular ones is Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists, which are a class of medications that include liraglutide, semaglutide, exenatide, and more.
These medications have been instrumental in managing blood sugar levels, which is why they’ve been essential for diabetes management. However, they’ve also increased in demand because they help enable consistent weight loss with proper use. A report from Managed Healthcare Executive notes that people using these medications can lose 15% of their body weight, which also correlates to improvements in blood pressure, blood glucose, and a user’s sense of well-being. As such, these drugs are also being integrated into obesity treatment alongside lifestyle changes.
Demand for these GLP-1 agonists are increasing, so it’s crucial to understand what they are, what they do, and why they can be influential in type 2 diabetes and obesity management. Here’s what you need to know about these new diabetes and weight loss drugs:
How do GLP-1 agonists work?
GLP-1 agonists work by mimicking the function of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1. After a meal, the drug stimulates the production of insulin to lower blood sugar levels, allowing people with type 2 diabetes to manage the condition more effectively. These weekly or daily injections also induce the feeling of satiety by slowing the movement of food from the stomach into the small intestine. Cravings and feelings of hunger are also reduced. As such, people stay fuller longer and are able to control the amounts of food they consume, which can lead to weight loss.
What are the types of GLP-1 agonists?
Semaglutide—sold under the names Ozempic and Wegovy—is one of the most well-known GLP-1 agonists. However, only Wegovy was approved for obesity treatment by the FDA in 2021. In the first three months of 2023, sales of Wegovy increased by 363%, a clear picture of the high demand for the drug. Prior to the rise of Wegovy, Saxenda—or liraglutide—was the first GLP-1 agonist to be approved by the FDA for the treatment of obesity in 2014. Mounjaro, or tirzepatide, is a newer one on the market and is currently only FDA-approved for type 2 diabetes treatment, but its efficacy in weight loss may soon lead to approval for obesity management as well.
Though GLP-1 drugs seem to be the same on the surface since they function the same way or do so similarly, the various medications on the market have their differences and may affect a user in varying ways. When considering Saxenda vs Wegovy, the latter is believed to be more effective for weight loss. Some may also prefer Wegovy since it’s used weekly, compared to Saxenda’s daily shots. These medications also have differences in how they work. In particular, Mounjaro targets two hormones—GLP-1 and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP)— to signal fullness and lower blood sugar. It’s currently the most effective out of all the other GLP-1 agonists mentioned. Ultimately, the type of drug prescribed to a patient depends on medical history, insurance plans, and preference.
How effective are GLP-1 agonists?
GLP-1 agonists have been proven to be effective for type 2 diabetes and obesity treatment. However, many healthcare experts note that they aren’t meant to be “silver bullets” for either condition, especially for weight loss. It’s recommended that these medications are paired with proper lifestyle changes or wellness programs—such as a diabetes reversal plan— to increase their effectiveness and promote healthy habits. Our “Path to Wellness: Exploring Effective Diabetes Reversal Plans” post notes that this involves tailored nutrition, physical activity, behavioral modification, support, and more. Combining GLP-1 agonists with something like a diabetes reversal plan or a weight loss program can help with more holistic management and treatment of type 2 diabetes and obesity.