According to a new epidemiological study, weight loss drugs such as Ozempic and Wegovy may be linked to three rare but severe stomach conditions.
The study, which was published in JAMA, came out just as the popularity of Ozempic and Wegovy- touted for their ability to cause significant weight loss – began to soar in the U.S.
The safety of these weight loss drugs, also known as GLP-1s, however, is currently being reevaluated after some individuals experienced stomach paralysis while taking them. Not only that but some patients also reported suicidal ideation while on the medications.
Glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonists, aka GLP-1s, aid in weight loss by slowing down digestion – to the point of suppressing an individual’s appetite. If the process is slowed too much, however, it can cause a myriad of issues.
For example, it can cause stomach paralysis, the partial or complete halt of movement of food to the intestines, according to researchers. Despite the severity of the condition, it is currently not listed on the warning label as a potential adverse effect.
Results from the study also showed that it’s associated with a higher risk of bowel obstruction – a condition that occurs when food is unable to move through the intestines; this can lead to inflammation of the pancreas. Unlike stomach paralysis, however, these potential complications are already included on the warning labels.
In the study, scientists looked at semaglutide, the medical ingredient used in Ozempic and Wegovy, as well as liraglutide, another GLP-1 that works in a different way to aid in weight loss. While Wegovy is indicated and approved for weight loss in the United States, Ozempic is only approved for those diagnosed with diabetes.
While previous studies looked at the risk of these conditions in diabetic patients, this research is the first study to look at the risk of severe stomach ailments in non-diabetic individuals using GLP-1 drugs for weight loss. According to a spokesperson for Novo, the manufacturer of the drugs, they recommend individuals only take the drugs for their approved indications.
What The Research Found
For the study, researchers analyzed health insurance claims for over 16 million patients in the United States. More specifically, they looked at those with a recent history of obesity, who were prescribed GLP-1 drugs such as liraglutide or semaglutide between the mid-2000s and 2020.
While most patients that were examined in the study took liraglutide, they believe the increased risks can be applied to all GLP-1 drugs.
The research looked at the rate at which individuals developed four severe stomach conditions while taking liraglutide, semaglutide, and bupropion-naltrexone – including pancreatitis, stomach paralysis, and bowel obstruction disease.
Compared to bupriorion-naltrexone, a type of opiate antagonist, GLP-1 drugs were 4 times more likely to cause bowel obstruction, 9 times more likely to cause pancreatitis, and over 3 times more likely to cause stomach paralysis.
Currently, in the U.S., approximately 7 out of every 1,000 individuals experience stomach paralysis while on the GLP-1 drug, liraglutide. As for semaglutide, it causes the condition in 10 out of every 1,000 patients.