Medications that have become very popular for weight loss, such as Ozempic, increase the risk of gastrointestinal problems, researchers warned in a study published Thursday.
The success of anti-obesity drugs
These side effects remain rare, and should be compared to health problems linked to obesity which can be avoided through weight loss. But experts emphasize that these results show the need to prescribe these drugs to patients who benefit from them, are informed of the risks, and are monitored by health professionals.
“With millions of people taking these medications worldwide, this could lead to hundreds of thousands of people suffering from these problems“, underlined a press release from the University of British Columbia (Canada), whose researchers carried out the study.
The researchers looked at the molecule semaglutide, used in the blockbuster drugs Ozempic and Wegovy, as well as liraglutide, from the drug Saxenda. All are produced by the Novo Nordisk laboratory.
Significant risks of complications
These new injection treatments, which have become popular because they are more effective for weight loss than older generations, imitate a gastrointestinal hormone (GLP-1) which plays a role in regulating appetite.
The researchers included approximately 5,400 obese patients without diabetes in their analysis, and compared those taking semaglutide or liraglutide, with those taking another treatment for obesity (non-GLP-1).
According to their results, patients treated with semaglutide or liraglutide had about 9 times the risk of developing pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), and more than 4 times the risk of developing intestinal obstruction.
For gastroparesis, a digestive disorder that limits the passage of food and can cause nausea, vomiting and pain, the risk was more than 3 times higher.
A diversion of use which poses a problem
These drugsshould be used with caution, and only in patients at highest risk of health problems or complications related to obesity“, commented professor of pharmaceutical medicine Penny Ward, not involved in the study.
“It is vital that regulations are strengthened to ensure these medicines are only prescribed in the right circumstances“, for his part estimated Dr. Simon Cork, of Anglia Ruskin University, judging the data from the study “reliable”.
In the United States, Ozempic is only approved against diabetes, but after becoming all the rage on social networks, it is also widely used outside of recommendations, for its weight-loss properties.
Saxenda and Wegovy have been approved by American health authorities for weight loss since 2020 and 2021 respectively.
But the clinical trials carried out for their authorization were too small and brief to detect these gastrointestinal risks, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia, who argue that this is the first large-scale study on the subject.