In the simplest words, obesity is the product of body’s energy output being less than its energy input. But actually, there’s nothing simple about this complex & mysterious disease.
Obesity, which skyrocketed in recent decades, now defining the body mass of over 40% of adult Americans is not just difficult for people to endure & scientists to understand. It is also incredibly hard to treat.
Beyond commitment to sustained lifestyle changes, healthy eating & exercise, effectively, there are really only 2 potential options which will help: bariatric surgery & weight-loss medications.
The former is invasive & carries various risks & complications. As for the drugs, they do not always work and may have their own adverse effects too.
However, an experimental treatment recently trialed-by scientists & detailed in a study published could open new doors for treating obesity patients with a weight-loss drug.
In the study, which involved about 2,000 obese-adults across 16 different countries, participants took a weekly dose of a drug called semaglutide, an existing medication already used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
A control-group took only a placebo, in place of the medication. Both groups received a life-style intervention course designed to promote weight-loss.
At the end of trial, the participants who took the placebo lost a little but clinically insignificant amount of weight. But those took semaglutide, the effects were pronounced.
After 68 weeks of treatment with the drug, which suppresses appetite because of a variety of effects on the brain, participants taking semaglutide lost on the average 14.9 percent of their weight. And over 30% of the group lost more than 20% of their body weight.
Broadly speaking, this makes the drug-up to two times as effective as existing medications for weight loss, researchers say, approaching the type of efficacy of surgical interventions.
“No other drug has come-close to producing this level of weight loss, this really is a game-changer,” says obesity researcher Rachel Batterham from the University College London.
“For the first time, people can achieve through drugs what was only possible through weight loss surgery.”
In addition to losing weight, participants registered improvements in other areas, showing reductions in various cardiometabolic risk factors & reporting quality of life improvements.
While the results are compelling, semaglutide dosage for anti-obesity effects does come-with some drawbacks.
Mild to moderate effects were reported-by many participants (in both the semaglutide & placebo groups), including nausea & diarrhoea. While the effects were temporary, they were enough for about 60 of participants to discontinue their treatment, compared with just 5 in the placebo group.
At present, the drug requires a weekly injection to work, whereas an oral sort of the medicine would likely be preferred-by patients.
More significantly, we do not yet have data on what happened to the participants after the drug regimen ceased-at the end of the trial.
For at least one individual, who spoke to The New York Times, her weight began to creep-up after the trial was over.
“While drugs like this might prove useful in the short term for obtaining rapid weight-loss in severe obesity, they’re not a magic bullet for preventing or treating less severe degrees of obesity,” says nutritionist Tom Sanders, an emeritus professor at the King’s College London, who was not involved with the study.
“Public health measures that encourage behavioral changes like regular physical activity & moderating dietary energy intake are still needed.”
Nobody would deny the wisdom of that, but if, further analysis of semaglutide turns-out to be positive, we could even be looking at a crucial new pharmaceutical option to help combat obesity.
And that option might arrive before than we expect.
The study, funded by a pharmaceutical company, Novo Nordisk, which sells semaglutide as an anti-diabetic medication, is now-being tendered as evidence to international health regulatory authorities, in support of an application to-market the drug as an obesity treatment.
The US FDA, along with its counterparts in the UK & Europe, is currently assessing the data.
The findings are published in The New England Journal of Medicine.