Diabetes medications may help treat obesity, experts say

The obesity crisis affects one in three Australian adults and is fueled by the number of chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

But now help is at your fingertips, with experts saying “blockbuster” diabetes medications could fill a major gap in the treatment of people struggling to lose weight.

Charlotte Wang has type 2 diabetes, where regular exercise and a healthy diet are key to controlling the disease.

Charlotte Wang - diabetes patient
Charlotte Wang has type 2 diabetes and along with diet and exercise, 25-year-old takes Ozempic – also known as semaglutide – to lower her blood sugar (9News)

The 25-year-old also takes Ozempic – also known as semaglutide – to lower her blood sugar, which has other benefits as well.

“I think the biggest change I noticed was definitely my appetite. I’m not constantly hungry,” Wang told 9News.

The drug’s weight loss benefits are now being touted on social media, leading people without diabetes to use the weekly pen injections, creating global shortages in the process.

The Therapeutic Goods Association has called for Ozempic to be a priority for patients with type 2 diabetes, but admits it cannot do anything about off-label prescription for weight loss.

Diabetes medications can help treat the obesity crisis.  The raves on social media about the benefits of weight loss are driving global deficits
The TGA has called for prescribing Ozempic as a priority for patients with type 2 diabetes, but cannot do anything about off-label prescribing for weight loss (9News)
Diabetes medications can help treat the obesity crisis.  The raves on social media about the benefits of weight loss are driving global deficits
More recently, a higher-dose version of the drug called Wegovy was approved in Australia for chronic weight management. (9News)

More recently, a higher-dose version of the drug called Wegovy was approved in Australia for chronic weight management.

Experts say the drugs and others in the pipeline will help fill a major gap in obesity treatment when they become available, calling them “a game changer.”

“We are now truly in an era of new therapies that are going to change the world in obesity and diabetes management,” Baker Institute director, Associate Professor Neale Cohen, told 9News.

Associate Professor Sarah Glastras - Endocrinologist, Kolling Institute
Experts such as associate professor Sarah Glastras say the drugs and other drugs in the pipeline will help fill a major gap in obesity treatment when they become available, calling them “a game-changer.” (9News)

Commonly known as tirzepatide, Mounjaro is another more potent diabetes drug.

In obesity, a large study showed remarkable results.

“A low dose of the medication will give you about a 15 percent weight loss, a higher dose of tirzepatide will give you up to 20 percent more,” Associate Professor Sarah Glastras, an endocrinologist at the Kolling Institute, told 9News.

Associate Professor Neale Cohen, Director Baker Institute
Experts, including Associate Prof Neale Cohen, emphasize that diet and exercise are fundamental to any treatment plan, and the drugs are not without side effects. (9News)

It works by enhancing the function of natural gut hormones, targeting two receptors instead of one.

“So when you magnify those effects, which is what the pharmaceutical industry has done, you send a signal to the body that you don’t really need to eat,” Cohen explains.

Experts emphasize that diet and exercise are fundamental to any treatment plan, and the medications are not without side effects.

Diabetes medications can help treat the obesity crisis.  The raves on social media about the benefits of weight loss are driving global deficits
The problem will be affordability, with experts calling for subsidies “for people who really need it” to fight obesity. (9News)

“In particular, we see nausea around 10 percent with these drugs,” Cohen said.

The problem will be affordability, with experts calling for subsidies “for people who really need it” to fight obesity.

“Obesity is a chronic disease, not a lifestyle choice,” Cohen said.

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