5 Other Potential Benefits of Semaglutide

5 Other Potential Benefits of Semaglutide

Semaglutide, the active ingredient in the diabetes and weight management drugs Ozempic and Wegovy, may have yet another condition it can potentially treat: chronic kidney disease

Clinical trial results published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine revealed that, compared to people who took a placebo, those taking semaglutide had a 24% lower chance of having a major kidney disease event, such as needing dialysis, getting a kidney transplant, losing at least half of their kidney function, or dying from kidney-related or cardiovascular causes. The trial included about 3,500 people with kidney disease and type 2 diabetes.

Another recent study that included 17,600 people who were obese or overweight and who had cardiovascular disease found that 22% fewer people experienced kidney-related events in a group receiving a weekly semaglutide injection compared with a group taking a placebo.

The studies suggest that semaglutide shows promise for treating chronic kidney disease, which occurs when the kidneys become damaged and gradually lose the ability to filter blood the way they should. More than one in seven adults in the United States has the condition, which has no cure.

As it stands, the Food and Drug Administration has approved Wegovy for weight management and Ozempic to help control type 2 diabetes. After researchers discovered that the drugs lowered the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events by 20%, the FDA also approved them to lower the odds of cardiovascular death, heart attack, and stroke in adults with cardiovascular disease and overweight or obesity.

However, researchers have not only found that Ozempic and Wegovy—which belong to a class of drugs called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists—may have the potential to protect kidney health, but that the drugs may also have the potential to curb a slew of additional conditions.

“Obesity is associated with more than 200 comorbidities,” Priya Jaisinghani, MD, a clinical assistant professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City, told Health. “Prevention and treatment of obesity will play a role in prevention, reversal, or remission of such comorbidities.”

Here are some other conditions that research shows semaglutide may improve or reduce the risk of a person developing.

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A 2023 study showed that semaglutide lowered the rate of colorectal cancer—cancer affecting the large intestine or rectum—in people with type 2 diabetes. 

For the study, researchers compared cancer diagnoses within 15 years of starting semaglutide and other diabetes treatments, including metformin and insulin, in more than 1.2 million people. Approximately 18,500 people who took GLP-1s for diabetes had a 25% lower rate of colorectal cancer compared to the same amount who took metformin. And the more than 22,000 people who took a GLP-1 had a 44% reduced risk of colorectal cancer compared to the same amount who took insulin.

It’s unclear exactly why semaglutide might affect colorectal cancer rates, but the authors said it could be because diabetes and obesity—two conditions that the drug helps manage—can increase the risk of developing this cancer.

Studies have suggested that people with type 2 diabetes who take GLP-1 receptor agonists, such as semaglutide, may have a lower rate of dementia compared to people given a placebo.

Because of this, researchers have begun trials to evaluate how the drug affects people with early Alzheimer’s disease. 

One way that semaglutide might lower a person’s risk of Alzheimer’s is by improving diabetes, a risk factor for dementia.

Per the Alzheimer’s Association, diabetes raises the risk of heart disease, which damages blood vessels, including those in the brain. Damaged blood vessels may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s. Too much sugar in the blood can also cause inflammation, which can also cause damage to the brain.

Research presented June 1 at the Endocrine Society’s meeting in Boston showed that semaglutide may lower the risk of acute pancreatitis, the sudden inflammation of the pancreas.

Investigators measured what happened when 638,501 people with a history of pancreatitis took either no medication, semaglutide, or other drugs for diabetes and obesity called SGLT2 inhibitors and DPP4s.

Within 15 years of starting semaglutide, 15% of participants developed pancreatitis again, compared to 24% who took SGLT2 inhibitors, 23% on DPP4s, and almost 52% of people not taking medication.

A small study published in 2023 suggested that semaglutide may lower symptoms of alcohol use disorder, which involves problems limiting alcohol intake.

“GLP-1s seem to alter some of the craving and reward drive in the brain, and we don’t completely understand how that’s happening at this point,” Jesse Richards, DO, an internal medicine physician at the University of Oklahoma, who led the study, told Health. “There seems to be a decrease in the cravings or the motivation to pursue.”

The research was only a “case series” study, which means it’s not robust enough to draw broad conclusions from. However, Richards said he’s leading a randomized controlled trial to monitor alcohol use in people on semaglutide or a placebo, with results expected next year.

Semaglutide is used off-label—meaning it’s prescribed by doctors for a non-FDA approved purpose—to treat symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormone imbalance that usually occurs when a person has high-than-normal levels of androgens. The condition affects the ovaries, causing them to develop multiple small cysts.

Anecdotal evidence and some small studies suggest that semaglutide may be helpful for people with PCOS.

Many people with PCOS are overweight or obese and may have insulin resistance, prediabetes, or diabetes, Marilyn Tan, MD, chief of the Endocrine Clinic at Stanford University School of Medicine, told Health.

“With weight loss and improved glucose control, menstrual cycles may become more regular, and sometimes hyperandrogenism (excess hair, acne) may improve,” Tan said.

However, randomized controlled trials are needed to confirm semaglutide’s positive effect on PCOS, she added.

Semaglutide might offer some people benefits, but the drugs aren’t for everyone.

If you have medullary thyroid cancer or a history of gallbladder disease or pancreatitis, your doctor may not recommend semaglutide. It may not be a good choice for underweight people, Richards added.

“These medications slow down the gastrointestinal tract, so I do not generally prescribe them if someone has uncontrolled gastroparesis or constipation,” Alyssa Lampe Dominguez, MD, an endocrinologist at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, told Health.

The drug does carry the risk of numerous side effects. Common ones include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and constipation. 

It’s important to know that if you do go off the drug, you may gain about two-thirds of the weight back should you stop taking the medication, Dominguez said.

“Cost is another important consideration as many insurance plans do not yet cover these medications for obesity,” Dominguez added.

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