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Is Semaglutide Really a Game-Changer for Weight Loss?

These days, we often hear about various supplements and oils that claim to help people shed pounds in just a few weeks. Additionally, diets like Keto and intermittent fasting are touted as quick fixes for weight loss, promising a flat stomach and a toned body.


Over the past decade, India has seen a significant shift from predominantly agricultural to urban lifestyles, leading to a notable increase in obesity rates nationwide. Recent statistics reveal that approximately one in three individuals in India struggles with obesity. Specifically, 28.6 percent of the population grapples with general obesity, and 39.5 percent experience abdominal obesity.


The Lancet Study


However, for people who have been struggling with being overweight, there is a silver lining to their cloud. A recent study published in the Lancet Journal claimed that 50 mg of oral Semaglutide, a medication used to treat type 2 diabetes, promises to lower blood sugar levels, aid weight loss, and improve cardiovascular health.


This trial spanned five years and involved 50 outpatient clinics across nine countries in Asia, Europe, and North America. Participants were instructed to take 50 mg of oral semaglutide once daily for 68 weeks, alongside lifestyle interventions. The results were encouraging, with 667 people experiencing positive weight-loss outcomes. The Lancet study demonstrated an overall weight loss of 15% over 68 weeks, with more than two-thirds of participants achieving at least a 10% weight loss. This is more weight loss than is typically seen with any other medication.


Effectiveness and Availability of Semaglutide


Dr. Usha Ayyagari, Director of Endocrinology at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai, affirms that semaglutide, which falls under the category of glucagon-like peptide-1 receptors (GLP-1), is as effective as bariatric surgery for weight loss. Patients with type 2 diabetes who used this medication saw significant improvements in controlling blood glucose levels and shedding excess weight. Dr. Usha notes that very few individuals benefit from this drug.


Semaglutide is currently licensed in India only for treating diabetes and not on its own for obesity. Unlike in the United States, where it is available as an injectable, in India, it comes in 3mg, 7mg, and 14mg oral doses. It requires a prescription and cannot be purchased over the counter.


Mechanism and side effects


Dr. Usha explains that the drug works through several mechanisms, including reducing appetite, increasing the feeling of fullness, slowing down digestion, and boosting energy expenditure. It is generally safe, with common side effects like nausea, bloating, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation, which are usually mild and temporary. However, more severe side effects are very rare.


“This drug is usually not prescribed to pregnant and breast-feeding women since it is under trials for the same, results for which will be out later this year. We also do not prescribe semaglutide to patients suffering from pancreatitis or who have a family history of medullary thyroid cancer, a sub-type of thyroid cancer, since it tends to aggravate both of them. Additionally, semaglutide is now being tested for other ailments like cardiovascular issues and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. However, it’s too early to say anything, but the results are promising,” says Dr.Usha.


Drawbacks of the Drug


The main drawback of this medication, as noted by Dr. Usha, is its cost. It amounts to around 10,000 rupees per month, with a 14-mg oral pill costing 390 rupees. More importantly, there is no insurance coverage in India for outpatient medication costs. Given the prevalence of diabetes and obesity, many people may find it challenging to afford this medication.


Lastly, she emphasizes that just taking the drug alone will not help with weight loss. It is a small part of a more extensive plan that includes lifestyle changes like healthy eating, daily exercise, managing stress, and sleep. Semaglutide is very effective for weight loss, but without lifestyle changes, it may be of very little or no use.


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