Weight loss syringe Wegovy: “Not a lifestyle drug,” says a doctor

Wegovy: Opportunities and risks of weight loss injections
Photo: Steffen Trumpf / dpa

The slimming product Wegovy is now also available in Germany. But what can the drug do and who should use it? Nobody who just wants to lose a few pounds in the summer – that’s clear from a nutritionist. Answers to the most important questions.

At the end of July, the weight loss product Wegovy was sold in German pharmacies for the first time. The drug from the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk raises great expectations. However, it is not suitable for everyone and due to the possible side effects, its use should be carefully considered. Nutritionist Thomas Kurscheid classifies the syringe to t-online. He is a specialist in general medicine as well as a nutritionist and sports doctor and runs a practice in Cologne.

What the doctor says about Wegovy and other important answers to questions about weight loss products:

“Anyone who wants to lose a few kilos is ill-advised to use the weight-loss injection”

Wegovy is a prescription drug used to lose and maintain weight. It was previously available in the USA, Denmark and Norway. According to the manufacturer Novo Nordisk, doctors have been able to prescribe it to obese patients in Germany since July 17, and pharmacies can then also order it from wholesalers. Novo Nordisk anticipates high demand and limited supply. The injection solution with the active ingredient semaglutide has also generated great interest in the USA because of some celebrity statements. Novo Nordisk speaks of hundreds of thousands of users.

Kurscheid warns against t-online against careless handling of the syringe. “The drug is not a lifestyle drug,” says the expert – in Germany it is only prescribed for obesity. “Anyone who is slightly overweight and wants to lose a few kilos for the bikini figure within a few weeks is ill-advised to use the weight-loss injection,” explains Kurscheid. Because as soon as you stop taking the drug, you quickly gain weight again – the money is thrown out the window.

If you just want to lose a little weight, the doctor recommends alternatives to treatment with Wegovy. According to him, taking weight-loss pills with fiber or protein powder can make sense. On the other hand, you can “forget” other common weight loss products such as green tea or high-dose caffeine.

His most important tip for losing weight healthily: “If you eat, then eat.” Then you should neither watch TV nor use your smartphone or read. Because if you do other things besides eating, then you eat too quickly, don’t notice when you’re full, don’t chew and enjoy properly. The brain then wants to catch up on this pleasure – and so you’re soon back in front of the fridge.

Who is Wegovy suitable for?

Patients can inject Wegovy under their skin once a week using a pre-filled pen that looks a bit like a highlighter: on their abdomen, thighs or upper arms. The preparation is intended for adults with a body mass index (BMI) from 30, i.e. obese. BMI is calculated from height and weight. For example, if you are 1.80 meters tall and weigh 100 kilos, you are just over 30. In addition, the drug can also be used in overweight people (BMI from 27) with at least one weight-related concomitant disease such as type 2 diabetes. And in adolescents from the age of 12 with obesity. However, the injections alone should not be the answer for any of these groups: they should rather be a supplement to diet and exercise.

How does the active ingredient work?

Semaglutide mimics the action of the body’s hormone GLP-1. “The impulse is set in the brain, so to speak, that you are full,” says the President of the German Obesity Society, Jens Aberle, to the German Press Agency (dpa). According to clinical studies, the active ingredient reduces energy intake and increases the feeling of satiety and fullness, according to a paper by the EU medicines authority EMA. Hunger feelings would be reduced, food cravings less frequent and less severe. Anyone who has frequent cravings for fries and the like can apparently also get this under control: the preference for particularly fatty foods is reduced.

What are the expectations in Germany?

“The demand is still huge,” says endocrinologist Aberle. This affects Wegovy, but also the diabetes drug Ozempic, which is often mentioned in the same breath, with a lower dose of semaglutide. Although Ozempic is not approved as a weight loss preparation, it can also be used for so-called off-label use (use outside of the approved purpose). Delivery bottlenecks also occurred against this background. According to Aberle, the manufacturer has secured 200,000 Wegovy pens for the second half of the year in Germany: “That’s a good amount, so you could take care of a significant number of patients.”

How much and how fast can you lose weight with Wegovy?

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine with a total of almost 2000 participants, Wegovy subjects had lost an average of 15 percent after 68 weeks. The comparison group only achieved a loss of a good two percent with a dummy drug. Experts clearly advise against use by people of normal weight who, for example, want to get rid of a few love handles before a beach vacation. The relationship between benefit and risk is then wrong. “A conscientious doctor would not prescribe the drug to people of normal weight,” says Aberle. There is also the risk that the sick will find it harder or impossible to get their medication if there is an excessive run on it by healthy people.

Do health insurance companies pay for the drug?

Statutory health insurance patients in Germany who want to use Wegovy must first pay for it themselves. In particular, drugs that are used to lose weight, curb appetite and regulate body weight are excluded from the possibility of being prescribed at the expense of statutory health insurance under the current regulations. “Hopefully, the regulation will be changed soon so that at least some obese patients can be supplied with it on a prescription,” says Aberle. The German Obesity Society is committed to covering the costs in cases in which Wegovy is medically indicated, for example when other therapy options do not help.

How much does Wegovy cost?

Novo Nordisk states the pharmacy sales price of a 4-week ration for the highest dose (2.4 mg) at a good 300 euros. That’s too much for self-payers, especially because the drug only works as long as it’s taken, says Aberle. The doctor is also expecting study results this year on the extent to which Wegovy helps to prevent some of the complications associated with obesity. These could possibly provide arguments for assumption of costs.

What are the possible side effects of Wegovy?

In previous studies, subjects reported nausea, diarrhea, constipation and vomiting most frequently. Because of such gastrointestinal side effects, the dose of the drug should be increased to 2.4 mg over several weeks. In four clinical studies, 2,650 adults were treated with Wegovy for a duration of 68 weeks.

The manufacturer also mentions possible side effects on its website, such as inflammation of the pancreas, gallstones, a risk of low blood sugar and blurred vision in type 2 diabetics. The safety committee of the EMA is also currently examining data on Wegovy, among other things, on the risk of suicidal thoughts and thoughts of self-harm. However, according to the EMA, it is not yet clear whether the reported cases are related to the drugs themselves or to the underlying diseases of the patients or other factors.

Who shouldn’t take Wegovy?

The effectiveness has not been studied for a number of people with certain diseases, such as type 1 diabetes. According to the EMA, the preparation must not be used during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Anyone who wants to have a child must discontinue semaglutid at least two months in advance. According to the manufacturer, those people who already had a certain form of thyroid cancer themselves or in the family should not get Wegovy either. This also applies to serious allergic reactions to semaglutide or other ingredients. The manufacturer also points out that the drug can affect the way other drugs work because it slows down gastric emptying.

Are there alternatives to Wegovy?

Other similar drugs are likely to be added, Aberle expects. According to him, the type 2 diabetes drug Mounjaro could also be approved for use against obesity by the beginning of 2024 at the latest. According to current knowledge, it is even more effective than Wegovy in obesity therapy. Other active ingredients are in development.

However, since Wegovy and similar medications are only intended as a supplement, those affected should continue to ensure sufficient exercise and a healthy diet in order to lose weight.

If you have acute depressive or suicidal thoughts, contact the telephone counseling online or on Tel. 0800 / 111 0 111 or 0800 / 111 0 222 or 116123. The German Depression Aid on Tel. 0800 / 33 44 533 will also help. In emergencies, please contact the nearest psychiatric clinic or the emergency doctor on Tel. 112.

Other sources: t-online

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