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Beyond Weight Loss and Diabetes, Ozempic Could Help Certain Heart Conditions

Everyone has been talking about Wegovy and Ozempic for weight loss. But Semaglutide could be used for heart conditions and even alcohol use disorder.

By Emilie Le Beau LucchesiApr 23, 2024 10:00 AM
ozempic shot
(Credit: fcm82/Shutterstock)


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For almost a decade, Oprah Winfrey served on WeightWatchers’ board of directors and also appeared in commercials promoting the diet program. “You can eat bread!” she promised viewers.

Then in late 2023, Winfrey disclosed she had added weight-loss medication to her maintenance routine. She soon sold her shares in WeightWatchers and decided not to seek reelection for the board. Her announcements sparked a larger public interest in the possibilities of weight-loss medications.

Weight-loss medications like Wegovy or Ozempic may seem new to many people, but they belong to a drug class the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved decades ago. In recent years, scientists have found that these medications may be able to do even more than help people shed pounds. 

What Is Wegovy?

Wegovy and Ozempic are the brand names for an injectable semaglutide drug manufactured by Novo Nordisk U.S. The two drugs are essentially the same, and Wegovy is a higher-dose version of Ozempic. 

Both Wegovy and Ozempic are glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1) agonists. This drug class has been used to treat diabetes, and in the case of Wegovy, it is FDA-approved to manage obesity. 

Read More: What Factors Matter Most For Weight Loss?

Semaglutide Is Not New

The FDA approvals and celebrity endorsements have prompted public interest in Ozempic and Wegovy. 

A study in the January 2024 issue of Aesthetic Surgery Journal used Google Trends to analyze web searches for the terms “Ozempic” and “Wegovy” from March 2018 to February 2023. Interest in the term “Ozempic” grew significantly after December 2022 and “Wegovy” after February 2023. 

Although public interest is new, scientists have been studying GLP-1 for a while. 

“It’s not new by any means,” says Lorenzo Leggio, a senior investigator and clinical director with the National Institutes of Health.  “My lab started working on GLP-1 ten years ago.”

Read More: A New Era for Obesity Treatment?

How Semaglutide Treats Diabetes and Obesity

When a person eats, the gastrointestinal tract releases the GLP-1 hormone. Semaglutide imitates this hormone, triggers insulin production, and lowers blood sugar. 

GLP-1 helps with weight loss by slowing gastric emptying. It takes longer for a person to digest, so they feel less hungry and more satisfied.   

For diabetic patients, GLP-1 improves insulin secretion, which helps with glycemic control and leads to weight loss. In 2017, the FDA approved Ozempic for the treatment of adults with Type 2 diabetes after clinical trials showed it helped improve blood sugar levels. 

The FDA considered data from seven clinical trials in which more than 4,000 participants in 33 countries were given a placebo or a weekly injection of Ozempic for up to 56 weeks. The participants’ hbA1c was measured at the start and end of the trial. 

The trials found that participants who received the Ozempic injections had improved the hBA1c with minimal side effects. 

Read More: Your Built-In Weight Loss System Works Like Wegovy, Ozempic, and Mounjaro

Semaglutide for Heart Conditions

Although Wegovy’s aid in weight loss and diabetic treatment has captured headlines, researchers have found there are other benefits.

In March 2024, the FDA approved Wegovy for use in patients who were at risk for cardiac death, heart attack, or stroke. These patients either have a cardiovascular disease and may also be obese or overweight. 

The approval was partly based on a double-blind study with 17,600 patients who were given either a placebo or Wegovy. The study found Wegovy helped reduce the risk of a major cardiovascular event. Of those who received the placebo, 8 percent experienced a major cardiovascular event, compared to 6.5 percent of the patients receiving Wegovy.

Read More: What Happens When Hearts Attack

Researching Semaglutide and Alcohol Abuse

Leggio’s lab is studying GLP-1 to determine if it can be used to help people with alcohol use disorder (AUD). “We found an association with a genetic variance and GLP1 receptor and the diagnosis of AUD,” Leggio says.

The connection between the genetic variance and diagnosis prompted Leggio’s lab to consider whether GLP-1 agonists can be used to treat AUD. Leggio says research with alcohol-addicted mice and rats has shown improvements when treated with GLP-1.

“The animal work in mice and rats is very promising, and the data is very consistent. But in science, of course, one of the biggest challenges is that things don’t always translate to humans,” he says. 

The next step is to conduct a double-blind clinical trial with human participants. Leggio says his lab’s clinical trial began last autumn but will take several years to complete.

Read More: Could Ozempic Be the Next Breakthrough in Addiction Treatment?

Article Sources

Our writers at Discovermagazine.com use peer-reviewed studies and high-quality sources for our articles, and our editors review for scientific accuracy and editorial standards. Review the sources used below for this article:

Emilie Lucchesi has written for some of the country's largest newspapers, including The New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and an MA from DePaul University. She also holds a Ph.D. in communication from the University of Illinois-Chicago with an emphasis on media framing, message construction and stigma communication. Emilie has authored three nonfiction books. Her third, "A Light in the Dark: Surviving More Than Ted Bundy," releases October 3, 2023 from Chicago Review Press and is co-authored with survivor Kathy Kleiner Rubin.

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