For eons it's ranked high among will-it-ever-happen technologies such as flying cars, human teleportation, and lightsabers: a magical little drug that when ingested will help you lose weight. Well, according to a major new study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, this fanciful idea is looking increasingly more realistic, and the compelling results could potentially be profound for the 1.9 billion overweight and 650 million obese adults across the world. Read on for more about the drug that scientists are touting as a "game changer" for fighting obesity—and for some smart, non-drug-related ways you can drop a few pounds starting now, see this list of Sneaky Weight Loss Tricks That Actually Work, According to Science.
"The drug, semaglutide, works by hijacking the body's own appetite regulating system in the brain leading to reduced hunger and calorie intake," explain the researchers from the Centre for Obesity Research and the UCLH Centre for Weight Management at the University of College of London, who conducted a large-scale international trial of the drug. "The findings of this study represent a major breakthrough for improving the health of people with obesity," notes Rachel Batterhorn, a professor of obesity, diabetes, and endocrinology at the university.
For the study, which officially began in 2018 and ran for 68 consecutive weeks, the researchers drew on data from nearly 2,000 overweight or obese adults across 16 countries and four continents. Divided randomly in a double-blind trial, the participants were either given a 2.4mg dose of semaglutide, which was given by injection, or a placebo, once a week. The study subjects also received "individual face-to-face phone counseling sessions from registered dietitians to help them adhere to a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity," says the study. They were also motivated by receiving equipment such as kettlebells and food scales.
At the end of the study, those who were injected with semaglutide experienced an average weight loss of roughly 11.7 pounds. Roughly 35% of the participants on the drug lost 20 percent of their weight. Slimmer physiques weren't the only benefit.
"Those who had taken semaglutide also saw reductions in risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, such as waist circumference, blood fats, blood sugar and blood pressure and reported improvements in their overall quality of life," says the study.
According to UCL, semaglutide is a proven and clinically approved drug for patients who suffer from type-2 diabetes, and works by mimicking the human hormone glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), "which is released into the blood from the gut after meals." The hormone helps you lose weight by operating as a satiating agent.
Caroline Apovian, MD, co-director of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness at Brigham and Women's Hospital—and a doctor who serves on the advisory board for Novo Nordisk, which funded the study—told The New York Times that semaglutide's performance was "phenomenal." She also noted that the study's compelling results may lead to it being covered by insurance. (Insurance companies rarely cover weight-loss treatments.)
Diabetes patients typically take a lower dose of only 1mg, and the study notes that there were some side effects among the participants who were given 2.4mg: some experienced "mild-to-moderate nausea and diarrhea," but those symptoms were "transient and [were] generally resolved without permanent discontinuation from the study." And if you're looking to lose weight and be healthier starting now, make sure you're fully aware of The One Major Side Effect of Walking Every Day, According to Science.