5 Health Benefits Besides Weight Loss

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In addition to treating diabetes and obesity, GLP-1 drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro, and Zepbound may also help reduce the risk of several other health conditions. andreswd/Getty Images
  • GLP-1 anti-obesity medications like Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro, and Zepbound are known for helping people control blood sugar and lose weight.
  • These medications have also been linked with additional health benefits.
  • From helping the kidneys function correctly to having positive effects on cognition, these medications may be used for more than weight management.

Ozempic and similar GLP-1 drugs like Wegovy, Mounjoro, and Zepbound have skyrocketed in popularity due to their effectiveness in treating diabetes and obesity.

However, there is a growing amount of research that suggests these drugs may provide several other health benefits.

In addition to helping people lower blood sugar levels and lose weight, these medications may also help treat or lower your risk of the following conditions.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that the GLP-1 medication Wegovy is now indicated to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death, heart attack, and stroke in adults with cardiovascular disease and either obesity or overweight.

“This new indication could mean significantly greater access, wider coverage, and better understandings of the myriad implications that these medications can have on physical health,” Dr. Beverly Tchang, endocrinologist and Ro obesity medicine advisor told Healthline. “Now considered a heart health medication, it’s likely that Wegovy will now be increasingly covered by payers.”

The FDA states that Wegovy’s efficacy and safety for this indication were studied in a multi-national, multi-center, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial that randomly assigned over 17,600 participants to receive either Wegovy or placebo.

Wegovy significantly reduced the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events (cardiovascular death, heart attack, and stroke), which occurred in 6.5% of participants who received Wegovy compared to 8% of participants who received a placebo.

Participants in both groups also received standard-of-care medical treatment for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as healthy lifestyle counseling on topics such as diet and exercise.

While the medication may be prescribed for heart health, Tchang noted that lifestyle changes are still the most important component for supporting overall health.

“Any physical activity is better than none, and the Mediterranean diet is still one of the ‘heart healthiest’ nutrition strategies,” she said.

High blood sugar levels that occur with type 2 diabetes can harm blood vessels in the kidneys, causing them not to function properly. In fact, about 1 in 3 people living with diabetes have chronic kidney disease (CKD), which occurs when the kidneys are damaged or functioning below 60% of normal.

Kidney disease is sometimes called a “silent” disease because it often causes no pain or other symptoms.

High blood pressure also contributes to kidney disease.

CKD can progress to end-stage renal disease (ESRD). When this happens, a person needs dialysis or a kidney transplant to keep the kidneys functioning and to stay alive.

However, according to Novo Nordisk, which conducted a clinical trial that hasn’t been published yet, semaglutide (the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy) can cut the risk of kidney disease-related events in people with type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease.

The company’s double-blind, placebo-controlled FLOW trial ran from 2019 to 2023 and compared 1.0 mg of semaglutide with a placebo in a group of 3,533 people in 28 countries with type 2 diabetes and moderate to severe kidney disease. The medication was given in addition to the standard of care treatment they received for chronic kidney disease.

Novo Nordisk reported that those in the semaglutide group showed a reduction in kidney disease progression as well as cardiovascular and kidney death of 24%.

The company plans to file for regulatory approvals of a label expansion for Ozempic in the US and European Union in 2024.

A team of researchers at the National Institutes of Health published a study that found semaglutide reduced alcohol drinking in rodents. However, trials are needed to understand the impact on humans.

“Anecdotally, those using Ozempic, Wegovy, and other GLP-1 agonists report less craving of alcohol and other substances, including nicotine,” Dr. Kenneth Spielvogel, a clinical physician at Carrara Luxury Rehab Center, told Healthline.

While there is not any conclusive data published yet regarding GLP-1 agonists and their effect on addiction in people, he added that there are two randomized controlled trials underway examining the potential role of these medications in substance use disorders, smoking cessation, and other use cases.

Why might GLP-1s help with these areas? In addition to affecting the stomach, the medications also work in “particular centers in the brain, within a dopamine-mediated pathway to decrease addictive-like symptoms,” explained Spielvogel.

He believes there will be a new generation of these medications that will cross the blood-brain barrier more readily and act on the central nervous system to decrease the cravings and desire to use illegal substances effectively.

“I am certain there is a role for them in smoking cessation as well,” Spielvogel said.

While there are currently a variety of treatments available for substance use disorders and nicotine dependence, he noted that GLP-1s bring promise as a centrally mediated tool to combat addiction.

“Any drug that shows the promise of decreasing the desire to use would be a welcome weapon in the arsenal against addiction,” he said.

However, he doesn’t think this will be a magic pill and stressed that addiction, smoking cessation, and weight management require a multi-disciplinary approach.

“One must combine diet, exercise, weight training, nutritional changes, therapy, and other modalities to overcome their addiction,” said Spielvogel. “The daunting task of treating these patients has great potential for being aided by this newer family of medications.”

Based on a study published in December 2023, GLP-1 medications like Ozempic lowered the rate of colorectal cancer in people with type 2 diabetes when compared to people taking other antidiabetic medications.

By analyzing the electronic health records of more than 1.2 million people who took antidiabetic agents from 2005 to 2019, the researchers compared the incidence of colorectal cancer in those people compared to a group who took GLP-1s.

One key finding is that of 18,518 people with diabetes who took GLP-1s, they had a 25% reduction in colorectal cancer compared to 18,518 people with diabetes who took metformin for diabetes.

While another study showed that having overweight or obesity are risk factors for colorectal cancer, the authors of this study noted that the exact correlation between taking GLP-1s and having a lower rate of colorectal cancer is not known.

In their study, they state, “Further research is warranted to investigate the effects in patients with prior antidiabetic treatments, underlying mechanisms, potential differential effects within GLP-1RAs, and effects of GLP-1RAs on other obesity-associated cancers.”

GLP-1 medications have been studied for years to look at their effect on cognitive disorders.

For instance, a study from 2003 found that the drugs can help reduce the buildup of amyloid protein in the hippocampus part of the brain. Amyloid protein turns into plaque, and plaque can lead to inflammation, which is associated with Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.

Current clinical trials by Novo Nordisk are underway, which are specifically studying GLP-1s impact on cognitive function. The trials assess the effect of semaglutide versus placebo in people with early Alzheimer’s disease by analyzing changes in cognition and function and comparing the effects on slowing clinical progression to dementia in people with mild cognitive impairment.

In addition, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes contribute to impaired cognitive function and increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

A 2020 study of people in England found that obesity and a higher waist measurement were associated with a higher rate of Alzheimer’s disease.

The assumption can be made that weight control and diabetes management with GLP-1 medications could help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. However, more research is needed.

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