You’ve probably heard of the medications that have quickly become all the rage for weight loss — medications like Ozempic, Mounjaro, and others. While they can be an effective tool to get to your goal weight, medications can be tricky. It’s important to understand how they work and their implications on your health and well-being.
So, what is the deal with Ozempic and other weight loss drugs?
Medications like Ozempic, also known by its generic name semaglutide, or Mounjaro, known by the generic name tirzepatide, are glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists. This means that when the medication binds to a certain receptor in your body, in this case the GLP-1 receptor, it initiates a specific physiological response. Mounjaro also acts upon a second receptor, the glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP) receptor, with a similar mechanism.
According to Katie Chambers, physician assistant at PALM Health, “Ozempic (semaglutide) and Mounjaro (tirzepatide) initiate a particular response that helps control the glucose levels in your blood, improve insulin sensitivity, slow down digestion, and decrease appetite to reduce your caloric intake — all factors that contribute to weight gain.”
In order to understand how the medications act on your system, it’s important to know how those contributing factors cause weight gain in the first place.
How Insulin and Blood Sugar Influence Your Weight
Insulin is a hormone that regulates your body’s absorption of blood sugar. When you eat, the sugar in your blood naturally rises from the food you’ve taken in. Your body senses that rise in blood sugar, which prompts your pancreas to release insulin. The insulin hormone then prompts all of the cells in your body to take in some of that sugar from your blood, because they need it as fuel to function well.
As the cells take up the sugar, the amount of it in your blood decreases, which prompts your pancreas to finish or slow down the insulin production, because it’s done its job.
The term “insulin sensitivity” refers to how well your cells respond to insulin when it’s released. If you are insulin-resistant, it means that when your pancreas releases insulin in response to elevated blood sugar after a meal, your cells don’t respond to it, or ignore it. So, they don’t take up the sugar from your blood.
The result? Your pancreas sends out even more insulin to try to get your cells to respond, and meanwhile, your blood sugar levels continue to rise because it’s not being transferred to your cells.
With all of that rising sugar in your blood, your body has no choice but to store the excess sugar as fat. As more and more sugar gets put away as fat, you gain weight.
HOW WEIGHT LOSS MEDICATIONS HACK THIS
Ozempic/semaglutide and similar medications work to improve your cells’ sensitivity to insulin, which in effect helps stimulate the normal uptake of sugar from your blood into cells, eventually regulating your blood sugar levels.
How Appetite and Caloric Intake Influence Your Weight
Calories work via a similar mechanism. When you take in more calories through food than you’re able to burn in a day, those extra unburned calories are converted into fat and stored that way.
A higher appetite and tendencies towards cravings (especially for higher-fat foods) can lead you to take in more calories than you burn, thus eventually gaining more fat.
As you gain weight due to excess caloric intake, that can actually trigger the insulin resistance discussed earlier. The more weight you gain, the more resistant your cells become to insulin, making it harder and harder to lose weight, creating a tough cycle to break.
HOW WEIGHT LOSS MEDICATIONS HACK THIS
Medications like Ozempic can help regulate your caloric intake by acting on the areas of your brain that are in charge of your appetite. By biochemically decreasing your appetite, you will naturally eat less food and take in fewer calories.
The meds will also slow down your digestion process, which increases your sense of satiety (fullness) and helps reduce cravings between meals. Essentially, you feel hungry less frequently, leading to a lower caloric intake.
Why Weight Loss Medications Shouldn’t Be a Standalone Treatment
Weight loss medication may sound like the solution you’ve been waiting for, but it’s more complex than that. The truth is, there is no quick fix for long-term weight management. However, weight loss medication, when used in conjunction with lifestyle modifications, can be an excellent tool for weight loss.
Like any other medication, Ozempic, Mounjaro, and others have their risks and side effects, and they’re not meant to be used long-term. According to Katie Chambers, “Frequently, individuals will get to their goal weight after several months on one of these medications, only to gain the weight right back as soon as they come off of it.”
That’s why weight loss medications should always be used in conjunction with healthy lifestyle change and with the support of a medical team.
The Medical Weight Loss Program at PALM Health approaches weight loss from all of those angles synergistically.
Our dedicated team of medical professionals helps individuals choose the right medication for their particular biochemistry, monitor their side effects and safety over the course of 6-12 months on the medication, and give them detox strategies to help their body process the medication properly.
“At the same time, our team will help you start incorporating healthy lifestyle habits into your routine to optimize your nutrition, exercise, and stress management,” says Katie.
Those habits, if you stick with them, are what will help you keep the weight off once you stop taking the medication. And though lifestyle change can be overwhelming, your team will see you through it: they’ll help you set reasonable goals, hold you accountable, and coach you through any challenges you may experience.
Our Medical Weight Loss Program is designed to use medication in the short term to get you to your goal weight, and lifestyle change in the long term to help you keep the weight off. And from start to finish, you’ll have a medical team by your side for the safest, most sustainable weight management experience possible.
Learn more about our Medical Weight Loss Program and contact one of our Navigators to see if you’re a good fit.
PALM Health is an innovative lifestyle medicine and wellness center that offers a comprehensive range of advanced medical and wellness services, empowering people to transform their health and feel their best in mind and body.