New Weight Loss Drugs That Became Popular in 2022: Risks, Side Effects

  • Medications such as semaglutide and tirzepatide are gaining popularity as weight loss treatments.
  • Initially used to treat diabetes, the drugs help moderate appetite and reduce cravings.
  • They are considered safe, although research is ongoing and side effects include nausea and loss of interest in food.

A new class of weight loss drugs, repurposed from diabetes treatment, is seriously changing the way we think about and approach weight management.

In 2021, the drug semaglutide, dubbed a “game changer” in the industry, officially received FDA approval to be prescribed for weight loss. In 2022, it has become extremely popular, more widely used and more research is being done. In the past year, another promising drug has also been eyeing for approval as a weight loss treatment.

Here’s what we know about the drugs, from their effectiveness to side effects.

Semaglutide became so popular that shortages developed

Semaglutide, originally used to treat diabetes, received FDA approval for weight loss in 2021 and is sold under the brand names Wegovy and Ozempic.

The drug acts on a specific hormone called GLP-1, which controls appetite so that patients taking the drug feel fuller. It also aids in the production of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Research suggests that it can help patients lose significant weight and keep it off if they continue to take the drug.

A similar drug, liraglutide, was approved by the FDA for weight loss in 2014 – its main difference from semaglutide is that it lasts longer, is administered in weekly rather than daily injections, and there is some evidence that it leads to more weight loss.

The high demand for semaglutide led to shortages in late 2021, which the FDA said continued this year.

In the summer of 2022, semaglutide shortages in Australia were linked to a TikTok trend of users sharing weight loss experiences with the drug, sometimes misleadingly.

Elon Musk added to the media buzz by announcing on Twitter that he had been using it for weight loss. Combined with rumors that the drug was the latest Hollywood weight loss hack, experts expressed concern that all the hype could make the medication harder to access for patients who need it, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Patients say it helps reduce cravings for junk food and alcohol

One factor in semaglutide’s popularity is striking anecdotes from patients who said it caused them to stop craving foods like bacon and sweet treats.

The medication makes it easier to practice moderation and portion control, according to patients who take it. The drug works in part by altering the reward center of the brain, interfering with the attraction of hyperdigestible foods high in salt, fat, and sugar.

As a result, it has also shown the potential to curb other types of addiction – some patients have found that it reduces their desire to drink alcohol and helps them drink less.

Tirzepatide has promising results but is not yet approved for weight loss

In June 2022, a similar diabetes drug called tirzepatide made headlines after research showed that people taking it lost 20% of their body weight in 16 months, Insider’s Rachel Hosie reported.

It works similarly to semaglutide, but has not yet received FDA approval for weight loss.

“We expect it to be approved for the treatment of obesity,” endocrinologist and obesity medicine specialist Dr. Scott Isaacs previously told Insider, though it’s not clear how soon.

However, patients can still access the drug since it’s approved for diabetes, allowing doctors to prescribe it for obesity if they think it will help.

Tirzepatide grew in popularity in 2022, in part because of a discount that made the drug more affordable, but long-term access is a concern because insurance rarely covers weight loss drugs, Isaacs said.

Weight loss medications are considered safe, but may cause side effects such as nausea

Both semaglutide and tirzepatide work for weight loss by reducing appetite, making patients less likely to overeat. But they can also cause unpleasant symptoms, such as nausea and diarrhea.

In some cases, the hunger-suppressing effects can make it hard for people to enjoy food, causing disgust or indigestion when they try to eat previously beloved treats like chocolate, fried chicken or even coffee, Insider’s Anna Medaris previously reported.

More research is needed to assess the long-term effects of the drugs, but current evidence suggests they can be used safely and effectively to treat patients, Dr. W. Scott Butsch, director of obesity medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, told Insider.

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