A Comprehensive Guide to GLP-1 Agonists
Weight management is a common concern in America, where conditions like obesity affect millions of people every day.
That’s why drugs like GLP-1 agonists have gained popularity for their appetite-suppressing effects, with their use increasing by 111% in the United States between 2020 and 2022.
GLP-1 drugs can be used to treat chronic conditions caused by obesity and being overweight, but it’s essential to understand how they work.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what exactly GLP-1 agonists are, which conditions they treat, and the side effects you can expect while using them.
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What are GLP-1 Medications?
Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) is a hormone produced in the gut that is essential for regulating blood sugar levels.
Medications containing GLP-1 — also known as GLP-1 receptor agonists — are a class of drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions like obesity.
Are there different types of GLP-1 medications?
There are three different groups of GLP-1 medications; oral drugs, short-acting injectables, and long-acting injectables. Let’s take a closer look at these groups:
Oral GLP-1 drugs
Although most GLP-1 drugs are injectables, oral options are also available.
The tablets have been designed to be absorbed into the bloodstream quickly and contain semaglutide that prompts insulin release.
Oral GLP-1 drugs are typically recommended to people with type 2 diabetes who:
- Prefer oral medications
- Have a needle phobia
- Require combination therapy alongside other antidiabetic medications
These drugs are presented in a single-use injectable pen and must be administered once or twice a day. Common short-acting GLP-1s include exenatide, liraglutide, and lixisenatide.
Short-acting drugs have a faster onset of action which allows for quicker blood sugar control, especially after meals. This is why these injectables are administered just before eating.
They are also often used with longer-acting injectables to allow for better control of insulin levels throughout the course of the day. Over time, this may reduce weight gain which is common in diabetes patients.
This type of GLP-1 medication can be used by type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients, as well as people who receive insulin pump therapy.
This form is also presented in a single-use injectable pen and is typically administered once a week. Common long-acting drugs include dulaglutide, exenatide extended release, and semaglutide.
Long-acting injectables provide a steady supply of insulin throughout the week, which helps to control blood sugar levels and appetite.
The insulin types — known as basal insulins — in long-acting injectables are designed to have a flat and consistent action profile, which means they can release the hormone over a longer period of time.
Long-acting injectables are typically used by type 1 and type 2 diabetics who require insulin therapy.
How do GLP-1 agonists work?
GLP-1 agonists work by mimicking the actions of the naturally occurring hormone in the body.
They bind to and activate GLP-1 receptors in cells to trigger the production of insulin — a hormone that helps the body convert glucose into energy.
GLP-1 medications also suppress the release of glucagon, the hormone that raises blood sugar. This allows the drugs to help the body regulate blood sugar levels.
To administer injectable GLP-1 medications, you’ll need to use the single-use injector pen the products come in.
It’s recommended that you inject yourself on a weekly basis in your upper arm, stomach, or thigh. You should change the injection site every week to avoid skin irritation.
Oral GLP-1 medications need to be taken once a week, with or without food.
Key Point: Which Medications Are GLP-1 Agonists?
There are a number of GLP-1 agonists on the market. These are:
- Ozempic (semaglutide)
- Wegovy (semaglutide)
- Rybelsus (oral semaglutide)
- Bydureon (exenatide)
- Trulicity (dulaglutide)
- Victoza (liraglutide)
- Adlyxin (lixisenatide)
- Byetta (exenatide)
These medications may be used and administered in specific ways, depending on your dosage and condition. However, not all of them have been approved as weight loss drugs.
Can GLP-1 Medications Be Used for Weight Loss?
Although GLP-1 agonists are chiefly used to treat chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and obesity, they’ve become popular as weight management drugs, too.
GLP-1 medications suppress an individual's appetite and cause a feeling of fullness which reduces food intake. Over time, this can lead to weight loss.
Studies and clinical trials have shown that people who take these medications may lose up to 15% of their body weight if combined with a healthy diet and exercise.
Are there any other benefits to using GLP-1 agonists?
Besides promoting weight loss and helping avoid overeating, GLP-1 medications may also offer the following benefits:
Improves cardiovascular health: Several GLP-1 agonists may be effective in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease in people with type 2 diabetes. These medications can help lower the possibility of heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases.
Preserves the body’s beta cell function: GLP-1 agonists may also be helpful in preserving pancreatic beta cell function responsible for producing and releasing insulin. By protecting beta cells, these medications can help maintain insulin production and improve long-term control of blood sugar levels.
It’s important to note that the benefits of using GLP-1 medications may vary, depending on the individual using them and also the drug dosage.
Key Point: Are There Any Drawbacks to Using GLP-1 Medications?
Although the medications have benefits that include significant weight loss, there are a few drawbacks to consider. These may include:
- Unpleasant side effects like nausea
- Medications that are primarily available as injections
- Expensive prescriptions, especially compared to other glucose-lowering medications
Which GLP-1 Medications Are Approved for Weight Loss?
All GLP-1 medications — including Ozempic and Wegovy — are FDA-approved drugs. Ozempic is currently only approved as a type 2 diabetes treatment with the added function of weight loss.
Although Wegovy is the only GLP-1 agonist that is approved for weight management, it’s important to note that these drugs aren’t meant for cosmetic weight loss.
Medications like Wegovy are typically only prescribed for patients with obesity.
If you’re looking to use GLP-1 agonists for weight loss, you may be interested in the LifeMD Comprehensive Weight Management Program. The program is a 360° approach that combines groundbreaking medications, lab testing, and the knowledge of leading clinicians to create a highly effective – and truly sustainable – weight-loss approach.
You’ll work with a clinician to establish your weight loss goals and if appropriate, get prescribed GLP-1 medication as part of your treatment plan.
Ready to achieve your weight loss goals?
Shed pounds with GLP-1 medication prescribed online by licensed healthcare providers.
Key Point: How Long Do GLP-1 Medications Take to Work for Weight Loss?
The effectiveness of GLP-1 medications will vary from product to product, but most people can expect to see average weight loss results within eight to twelve weeks.
You should also remember that these medications work best when paired with lifestyle changes, like eating a reduced-calorie diet and getting more exercise.
Are There Any Side Effects of Using GLP-1 Medications?
It’s common to experience mild side effects while using GLP-1 medications. These may include:
- Upset stomach
- Abdominal pain
Mild symptoms tend to resolve once the body starts to get used to the medication. In rare cases, you may experience more severe side effects such as:
- Allergic reactions
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Diabetic retinopathy complications
- Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
- Gallbladder or kidney disease
Some studies have also shown that GLP-1 medications may increase your risk of developing thyroid tumors and endocrine system disorders.
Who should avoid using this medication?
Although GLP-1 drugs are generally considered safe to use, it’s recommended to avoid them if you have or had:
- Personal or family history of thyroid cancer
- Family history of multiple endocrine neoplasia 2 (MEN-2)
- Used other anti-obesity medications
These medications can aggravate the above conditions, which may lead to serious health complications.
It’s also unclear if GLP-1 agonists are safe for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.
Key Point: What Do GLP-1 Medications Cost?
Using GLP-1 medications can be expensive, especially since the pens are single-use and you’ll have to get a new one every week.
Thecurrent cost of GLP-agonists can range anywhere from $391-$700, depending on the dosage and concentration of the medication.
Your insurance may cover a portion of your GLP-1 medication, depending on the plan you’re on and the type of condition you need to treat.
Insurance verification is included in the cost of the LifeMD Comprehensive Weight Management Program, so any necessary communications and information exchange throughout this process will be facilitated on your behalf.
What are the Alternatives to GLP-1 Medications?
If you’re not eligible for GLP-1 medications, there are a number of alternatives that you can try to achieve the same results.
For weight loss, medical professionals may recommend:
- Lifestyle modifications: Adopting healthy lifestyle habits is often the first approach to weight loss. This includes consuming a balanced, calorie-controlled diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins while limiting processed foods and sugar. Regular physical activity can also contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
- Contrave: Contrave combines two medications, naltrexone and bupropion, which work together to affect the areas of the brain that control eating behavior and appetite. Naltrexone helps to reduce cravings for food, while bupropion helps to increase feelings of fullness and reduce the likelihood of overeating. By targeting these chemicals in the brain, Contrave helps to promote weight loss.
- Metformin: Metformin works by reducing the amount of glucose produced by the liver and improving insulin sensitivity, leading to a decrease in appetite and potential weight loss. By reducing the amount of glucose in the bloodstream, metformin also reduces the amount of insulin released by the pancreas. This can lead to weight loss by decreasing insulin resistance and helping to regulate appetite. Additionally, metformin may also increase the sensitivity of fat cells to insulin, which can lead to the breakdown of fat stores and a reduction in body weight.
- Orlistat: Orlistat works by absorbing dietary fat in the digestive system, leading to a reduction in calorie intake. Orlistat is also available as an over-the-counter (OTC) medication at a lower dosage or as a higher-dose prescription drug.
- Bariatric surgery: In severe cases of obesity — when an individual’s body mass index (BMI) is over 30 — bariatric surgery may be considered. This involves procedures like gastric bypass, gastric sleeve, or gastric banding to help reduce the size of the stomach. These procedures also modify and speed up the digestive system to promote weight loss.
The medications listed above are some of the options available through the LifeMD Comprehensive Weight Management Program. LifeMD also offers compounded prescription medications that combine the active ingredient of GLP-1 medications — with other key ingredients — to support healthy, sustained weight loss alongside positive lifestyle choices.
Where Can I Learn More About GLP-1 Medications and Other Medications for Weight Loss?
If you’re struggling with weight management or you’re curious about GLP-1 medications or other medications for weight loss, you can begin your journey toward a healthier you by enrolling in the LifeMD Weight Management Program.
The program provides a tailored approach along with ongoing support that goes beyond the typical weight-loss offerings. You’ll have the opportunity to choose your clinician and build a lasting relationship with them as they provide medically-backed guidance throughout your entire journey.
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