For decades, American TV sets have been full of ads for the latest diet trends.
Now, a new trend and new class of medications are exploding in popularity.
“This seems like it’s been the only thing that’s really worked for me,” Abbi Lee said.
Abbi Lee lives in Tulsa and is one of tens of thousands of Americans on a type of medication called a GLP-1 agonist, sold under popular brand names like Ozempic, Wugovy and Mounjaro. The once-weekly injectable drug helped her lose 70 pounds.
“It wasn’t until two or three months in that I started to notice weight loss and then it started coming off fairly quickly,” Lee said.
GLP-1 agonists are nothing new, but the way they are used has evolved in recent years.
First approved by the FDA to treat Type 2 diabetes patients in 2005, more doctors are now prescribing it in non-diabetes patients for weight loss.
For Dr. Mark Callery with Utica Park Clinic, the drug’s evolution has been fascinating.
“We’re really talking about diabetes medicines that came out and what they realized is that when they were treating people with diabetes, that they were also losing weight,” Callery said.
In the years after being approved for diabetes, doctors studied the drug’s effects on non-diabetics.
What they found was people were losing massive amounts of weight.
“In the studies, some of them lost over 20 percent of their body weight over the course of an 18 month study or so,” Callery said.
According to Callery, the drug stimulates insulin production, slowing down digestion and interacts with hunger receptors in the brain. Because of the results, family medicine doctors like him are busier than ever.
“We’re seeing 20, 30 ,40 percent of the patients we see every day are asking about it at some point,” Callery said. “And it doesn’t even matter what they’re there for. They could be there for a cold and they’re like, hey I got a friend that’s taking this medicine, is it something I can do?”
Callery mainly prescribes Wugovy because it is FDA approved for weight loss. Other doctors prescribe the newer, and perhaps even more effective medicine, Mounjaro off label, as its expected for final approval by the FDA later this year.
Lee, who owns a wellness center in Sapulpa with her husband, was aware of the medicine, but tried other weight loss methods first.
“Anywhere from Weight Watchers to HCG, I would get down and it would be hard for me to stay there and I’d go right back up,” Lee said.
Last year, after two C sections and an emergency surgery, Lee got up to 230 pounds.
“I got to a point that I realized I was tired of all the time,” Lee said. “I couldn’t play with my kids as much.”
Lee talked to her doctor and started on semaglutide, a generic version of Weguvy.
Outside of some minor side effects like tiredness and nausea, she started to notice a difference.
“When you’re on this medication you’re not hungry,” Lee explained. “And so when you have the urge to eat, you’re allowed to ask yourself ‘am I really hungry or is it because I’m so used to eating I want to snack on something.'”
The weight then fell off.
Callery says Lee’s story is one of many across the country.
Despite the drug’s success, some aren’t so lucky. Researchers say the drug has led to pancreatitis and thyroid issues in a few cases.
For others, the high price turns them away.
“I usually tell people its going to cost 900 to a thousand dollars a month if you want to do it,” Callery said.
Some insurance companies won’t pay for the drug’s weight loss effects.
“Insurance companies, unfortunately, aren’t all that excited about paying for weight loss and it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Ozempic, Mounjaro or anything else,” Callery explained.
But for those who do pay, the benefits often outweigh the risks.
Lee says she’s now able to play more with her kids and the weight loss has led to other health issues going away. For her, these drugs have changed her life.
“It’s worked in a way that we haven’t seen other drugs on the market work as far as weight loss goes, I think we’ll be hearing about it for awhile,” Lee said.
There have been some supply issues because of the increased demand.
Some diabetes patients tell us they are having a harder time working with their insurance in covering the drugs.
Market analysts believe that once it’s fully approved, Mounjaro could become one of the highest-selling drugs of all time with annual sales topping $50 billion.