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How a Diabetes Medication Became a Weight Loss Drug

There’s a promising new drug on the market described as a “game changer” by medical professionals. We interviewed Endocrinologist Dr David Carey to find out how this diabetes medication became a weight loss drug - and how our clients can benefit from it.

One of the most common battles we face when restricting food intake is hunger. So what if there was a medication that could help you feel fuller with much smaller portions? Enter the GLP-1 agonists.

“These medications were originally developed to treat type 2 diabetes,” says Dr David Carey, our resident expert Endocrinologist. “They mimic a natural gut hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1, or GLP-1 for short. GLP-1 is released by our small intestine during and after meals. It helps with the management of diabetes by bringing high sugars back to normal, but it also works on the stomach and the brain to help you feel full. This sensation of fullness helps you to eat less and thus lose weight.

“Saxenda (liraglutide) is a GLP-1 agonist medication currently approved by the TGA for management of obesity. It is injected from a small pen device once per day. In our clinic, I have begun making use of the newer medication Ozempic (Semaglutide), which is a once-weekly injection.”

Dr Carey explains that studies show how Ozempic can significantly enhance the weight loss outcomes of a structured diet and exercise program. “A study published earlier this year showed patients using Ozempic alongside diet and exercise lost 14.9% of their initial body weight, compared with just 2.4% in the placebo group.”

Ozempic has now been trialled in over 4,500 adults, with favourable results. In each study, Ozempic was prescribed under medical supervision while following a reduced-calorie diet prescribed by a dietitian. Patients also had a regular exercise program.

“This is why I work with a team of allied health professionals,” says Dr Carey. “Drugs like Ozempic don’t make your body lose weight; they make it easier to implement lifestyle changes instead of relying on pure willpower. Without the partnership of a dietitian, weight is likely to be regained when medication is stopped – At the Health+ Diabetes Clinic, my patients receive team support to make the practical lifestyle changes necessary to keep weight off for life.”

The most common side effect of Saxenda and Ozempic is nausea. How does Dr Carey manage this? “Nausea may be avoided by introducing the medication in low doses, and increasing slowly each week.”

Afterword: Ozempic is currently subsidised in Australia only when used for the management of diabetes, but can be prescribed at full price (“off-label”) for weight-loss patients where suitable, and when under the supervision of a medical specialist. Saxenda attracts subsidies under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and may therefore be a cheaper option for non-diabetic patients.


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