GLP-1 drugs are all the rage for weight loss today. If you’re seeking an efficient way to lose weight and enhance your overall health, lifestyle changes such as a well-balanced diet and regular physical activity are crucial for losing body fat. However, diet and exercise alone have a small success rate for most Americans trying to lose body fat.
A renowned study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that only around 20% of people trying to slim down succeed in losing 10% of their body weight. 1 Another shocking statistic is that most people regain about one-third of their lost weight within a year, with most returning to their pre-diet weight within 3-5 years.2
Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists are one such category of medications that have gained attention lately for their ability to suppress appetite and enhance fat loss. Therefore, in this article, we’ll discuss the potential benefits of GLP-1 agonist medication and exercise for weight management.
Is More Exercise the Solution to Obesity?
Most people think that exercising more is the best way to shed excess pounds. Exercise is crucial for maintaining a healthy lifestyle and contributes to weight loss. However, it’s essential to understand that relying solely on exercise may not lead to optimal results. Most research suggests that increased exercise often results in only modest weight loss.
Thus, while exercise is vital to a healthy lifestyle, it may not always be the key to achieving long-term weight loss. 3 Most people looking to reduce body fat cut their calories too fast and try extreme fitness programs that can result in unfavorable losses of muscle.
The Biggest Loser Show: The Wrong Way to Lose Weight
The TV series “The Biggest Loser” provided hope to millions battling weight issues. The dramatic transformations of the contestants in such a short time inspired many viewers. However, most people needed to realize that this approach was far from ideal.
Researchers monitored the participants’ weight, metabolic rate, and body composition (i.e., muscle and body fat) before, during, and six years after The Biggest Loser competition concluded. The participants in the show experienced the following:
Weight Gain: On average, contestants shed 128 pounds during the competition. However, six years later, they had gained back approximately 70% of their lost weight, with only one participant maintaining a lower weight than their initial starting point.
Slowed Metabolism: The contestants’ experienced a substantial decrease in their metabolism, which lasted six years after the show ended. This slowed metabolism contributed to weight regain and made long-term weight loss maintenance difficult.
Loss of Muscle: The contestants lost an average of 25% of their muscle. Losing muscle can further slow metabolism, making it increasingly challenging to lose weight over time.4
What are GLP-1 Drugs?
Starting a weight loss journey can be challenging, and sometimes you need more than diet and exercise to reach your goals. That’s where a medication called GLP-1 may help your weight loss journey. GLP-1 is a hormone your body produces critical to appetite and regulating blood sugar levels.
Here are a few different ways they help you lose body fat:
- Decreases Appetite: GLP-1 stimulates the release of hormones that signal the brain that we are full. This reduces appetite and helps reduce calories consumed.
- Slows Stomach Emptying: GLP-1 slows down the rate at which our stomachs empty, which prolongs the feeling of fullness and helps prevent overeating.
- Improves Insulin Sensitivity: GLP-1 also improves insulin sensitivity, which helps our bodies use blood sugar more effectively. This is particularly beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes, as it can help them manage their blood sugar levels.
Common side effects of GLP-1 medications such as Semaglutide (Wegovy) include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. However, these side effects are generally mild and often resolve over time as the body adjusts to the medication. In some cases, patients may also experience hypoglycemia (i.e., low blood sugar), especially when used in combination with drugs such as sulfonylureas or insulin.
GLP-1 drugs like Rybelsus, produced by Novo Nordisk, and other similar medications work by mimicking the natural hormone GLP-1, which is involved in regulating glucose levels and insulin secretion. By interacting with receptors in the pancreas, these drugs help maintain healthy blood sugar levels and promote satiety, reducing the likelihood of overeating.
GLP-1 brands include Exenatide, Semaglutide (Ozempic, Wegovy, Rybelsus), Dulaglutide (Trulicity), Lixisenatide (Adlyxin, Lyxumia), and Liraglutide (Victoza, Saxenda). Only two are approved for weight loss by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA): Wegovy and Saxenda.
How Do GLP-1 Drugs Compare with Other Weight Loss Drugs?
GLP-1 agonists demonstrate greater efficacy in promoting weight loss than other weight loss medications, as they not only decrease appetite but also enhance insulin sensitivity. Nonetheless, it is crucial to remember that GLP-1 drugs are available by prescription only and should be used exclusively under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
GLP-1 agonists clinical studies have also been shown to benefit cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In addition, GLP-1 agonists have a lower risk of adverse effects than other weight loss drugs, such as Orlistat and Phentermine/Topiramate.5
Studies on GLP-1 Drugs and Weight Loss
GLP-1 agonists can be a helpful medication in conjunction with proper diet and exercise in the treatment of obesity. Weight loss results with GLP-1 agonists vary depending on the specific medication, dosage, and individual factors. According to a recent clinical trial, people taking GLP-1 agonists lost an average of 15.62 pounds compared to a placebo.6
Another study examining the effects of semaglutide (Ozempic, Wegovy) on obese adults showed that participants lost an average of 13.8% of their body weight or 33.6 pounds when treated with 2.4 mg of semaglutide weekly.7 Despite significant weight loss with GLP-1 drugs such as semaglutide, weight loss and health benefits can be further increased with exercise.
Combination of GLP-1 Drugs and Exercise: The Winning Combination for Achieving Your Ideal Body Weight.
A recent study investigated the combined effects of the efficacy of exercise and GLP-1 drug treatment on weight loss and health. The subjects were divided into three groups: GLP-1 drug treatment alone, exercise alone, or a combination of GLP-1 drug treatment and exercise.
The study found that participants who received both exercise and GLP-1 drug treatment experienced the greatest improvements in weight loss, abdominal obesity, and inflammation markers compared to those who received either GLP-1 agonist or exercise alone. Also, the subjects who took the GLP-1 drugs and exercised gained muscle, whereas the group taking GLP-1 and no exercise lost muscle mass.8 This suggests that exercise in conjunction with a healthy diet can result in superior results than taking GLP-1 alone.
Who is a suitable candidate for Wegovy?
GLP-1 drugs have brought a new approach to losing body fat for people struggling with obesity or being overweight. Doctors usually suggest GLP-1 medications for people with a BMI of 30 or more who’ve already tried losing weight with diet and exercise.
- Anderson JW, Konz EC, Frederich RC, Wood CL. Long-term weight-loss maintenance: a meta-analysis of US studies1,2,3. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2001/11/01/ 2001;74(5):579-584. doi:https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/74.5.579
- Mann T, Tomiyama AJ, Westling E, Lew AM, Samuels B, Chatman J. Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer. Am Psychol. Apr 2007;62(3):220-33. doi:https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17469900/
- Catenacci VA, Wyatt HR. The role of physical activity in producing and maintaining weight loss. Nature Clinical Practice Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2007/07/01 2007;3(7):518-529. doi:https://www.nature.com/articles/ncpendmet0554
- Fothergill E, Guo J, Howard L, et al. Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition. Obesity. 2016;24(8):1612-1619. doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.21538
- Baggio LL, Drucker DJ. Glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor co-agonists for treating metabolic disease. Mol Metab. Apr 2021;46:101090. doi:https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32987188/
- Iqbal J, Wu H-X, Hu N, et al. Effect of glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists on body weight in adults with obesity without diabetes mellitus—a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized control trials. Obesity Reviews. 2022;23(6):e13435. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/obr.13435
- Wilding JPH, Batterham RL, Calanna S, et al. Once-Weekly Semaglutide in Adults with Overweight or Obesity. New England Journal of Medicine. 2021;384(11):989-1002. doi:https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2032183
- Sandsdal RM, Juhl CR, Jensen SBK, et al. Combination of exercise and GLP-1 receptor agonist treatment reduces severity of metabolic syndrome, abdominal obesity, and inflammation: a randomized controlled trial. Cardiovascular Diabetology. 2023/02/25 2023;22(1):41. doi:https://cardiab.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12933-023-01765-z