Driftless Health: Popular medications show weight loss success, but experts say they’re not for everyone

The rate of obesity continues to climb in America. A chronic condition like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, it affects not only a person’s physical health, but their ability to negotiate social situations, their work environments and many other areas of life.

So, it’s no surprise that when a prescription drug like Ozempic is found to also be an effective weight loss medication, interest in it increases exponentially. Although Ozempic and its peers like Wegovy and Saxenda can help people lose weight, experts say they’re not for everyone.

These drugs, which are used primarily to treat type 2 diabetes, help with blood sugar regulation and insulin resistance, but it also plays a role with appetite, said Gundersen Health System registered dietician nutritionist Rebecca Cripe. 

“It helps with appetite. It will lower your hunger and provide better fullness,” she said. “At higher doses, some of these medications also help with weight loss as well.”

For a person who is obese, it’s difficult to lose weight because of the decreased ability to feel full after eating. But these medications work on the hormones that provide that feedback to the brain. In conjunction with a healthy diet and lifestyle, weight loss can be realized.

“These kinds of medications are a very helpful tool,” Cripe says. “Because it’s such a complicated disease, when people say, ‘I feel like I can never get full,’ these medications can help with that, and it’s very empowering for people.”

Cripe cautions that these drugs aren’t a cure of obesity and says they certainly aren’t meant for those only looking to shed a few extra pounds gained over the holidays. With any type of disease management, to sustain the desired results, the medications need to be taken indefinitely. 

“If somebody goes off the medication for various reasons, we can see a certain percent of people have some weight regain, if not all their weight regained,” she said, adding that like any medication, Ozempic can have unpleasant side effects that could cause a person to discontinue its use.

However, should someone be interested in learning more about the use of Ozempic or other drugs for weight loss purposes, Cripe says the first step is to talk with a primary care provider. Medication, she said, will not compare to metabolic weight loss surgery in terms of percentage of weight lost. But for those who aren’t candidates for surgery, it will help increase the amount a person can lose beyond what’s capable with oral medications and exercise.

To learn more about what options are available to treat obesity, visit gundersenhealth.org/services/non-surgical-weight-loss.

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