If “miracle weight loss” sounds like a possible scam to you, I think you’re right to be cynical. I am too. However, a recent article in the leading medical journal in the world may change both of our minds.
However, a recent article in the leading medical journal in the world may change both of our minds.
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Weight Loss is a Big Business
More than 70% of Americans are overweight or obese, and our health is suffering. Over half of us now have diseases associated with unhealthy weight, such as high blood pressure, pre-diabetes, and fatty liver, among many others.
And our weight is not because we aren’t trying. An estimated $72 billion is spent each year on weight loss, even though most efforts fail in the long run. One particularly eye-opening study in over 176,000 people over nine years showed the chances of an overweight person achieving a normal weight was less than 1 in 100.
It’s no wonder the concept of a miracle weight loss treatment is so attractive.
Medicines for weight loss
However, the history of weight-loss drugs is, well, dismal.
Laxatives, thyroid hormone, and amphetamines have all been used with serious, potentially life-threatening, side effects.
In the 1990s, a component of the popular weight loss drug Fen-Phen (fenfluramine) was withdrawn from the market after reports of heart valve disease and pulmonary hypertension.
In 2010, sibutramine was removed from the market due to reports of increased risk for heart attack and stroke.
And in 2020, the weight loss medication Belviq (lorcaserin) was withdrawn from the market when studies suggested an increased risk for cancer.
Even the handful of weight loss meds that remain available aren’t prescribed often, likely due to their cost and modest effect.
But now we might have a new treatment that MAY change everything.
Is this a new beginning for weight loss?
The STEP trial used a once-a-week injection of a diabetes medication called semaglutide for a little over a year.
And the results were stunning.
The weight loss in those who received the medication was 14.9% of the starting body weight, which was 15.3 Kg or 33.6 pounds on average.
In the STEP trial, 86% of people lost more than 5% of their body weight, and 69% lost more than 10% of their body weight. There was also a decrease in blood pressure and blood sugar levels in those on the medication.
While these results are exciting, there are some things to keep in mind.
The medication dose used in the trial is not commercially available currently, and the dose used for treating diabetes is very expensive. There were also side effects from the medicine, in particular, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting occurred in about 75% of people, although only 7% stopped the medication during the trial. Liver, gallbladder, and pancreas problems were rare but more common in the medication group.
It is also important to point out that regaining weight is highly likely if the medication is stopped without a healthy lifestyle change.
More trials are needed, but this is an exciting first step in possibly having an effective medical treatment for unhealthy weight besides bariatric surgery.
Do we finally have an actual miracle weight loss treatment?
We don’t know yet, but, for the first time, the answer is now maybe.