Move over Ozempic: Diabetic drug Mounjaro new ‘trending’ medication for weight loss
Move aside Ozempic. Another medication called Mounjaro – also designed to treat diabetes – is the latest in a new wave of drugs being used for dramatic weight loss.
Tirzepatide, sold under the brand name Mounjaro, is the latest drug to garner worldwide attention for its quick-fix results.
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But according to UAE doctors, the drug has not yet been approved by the FDA for weight loss therefore it should not be used for this purpose.
Dr. Mustafa Saif, a specialist in internal medicine at Aster Hospital Mankhool, Bur Dubai, told Al Arabiya English: “Mounjaro is a drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for type 2 diabetes patients. It helps in decreasing blood sugar levels in adults. The results are better when the patient follows a strict diet and exercise.”
He continued, “The drug seems to help overweight people in reducing their weight. It is one of the side effects of the drug. However, it is yet to be clinically proven. The drug is not approved by the US FDA for weight loss at all.”
The demand for Mounjaro follows worldwide reports of a surging number of people – including those in the UAE – heading to health clinics, pharmacies and hospitals trying to get their hands on diabetes injections such as Saxenda and Ozempic to use the medications for weight loss.
Interest peaked after videos on TikTok and advertisements on Instagram promoted the drugs as a miracle cure for stubborn fat. Celebrities getting a hold of the drug to drop a few dress sizes also played a role in the increased interest.
Otherwise known as semaglutide, Ozempic and other similar drugs, such as Wegovy, originated as a diabetes medication, and were FDA-approved to treat obesity in 2021, becoming so popular it caused shortages.
Semaglutide contains a compound that mimics a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and helps the pancreas release the right amount of insulin when blood sugar levels are high. It also makes you feel full because it slows down stomach emptying and suppresses appetite.
The drug has helped people shed up to 15 percent of their body weight. However, in clinical trials, people complained of side-effects including constipation, nausea, vomiting, headaches and diarrhea.
In the UAE, Dr. Saif said the Mounjaro drug is only supplied to patients to treat diabetes.
“Even the choice of the drug depends on the patient’s profile. It is not that we give Mounjaro to everybody. Mounjaro helps obese patients struggling with diabetes. So, the weight loss factor comes in as a side effect of the drug. It is not an indication that the drug could be used for weight loss,” he told Al Arabiya English.
“The patient taking Mounjaro drug would feel fuller for a longer period of time and reduces the intake of food. This is the factor that let the drug help in weight loss. But as said, it is not an approved drug for weight loss.”
The doctor also warned against using the drug for weight loss because clinical trials are still under progress.
Dangers of the drug
Dr. Saif said some studies suggest that the Mounjaro drug can remotely cause thyroid C-cell tumors, or a condition called Multiple Endocrine Neoplasis (MEN) syndrome, which causes tumors in the endocrine glands.
“So if any patients are taking Mounjaro drug for diabetes, they should immediately reach out to their doctor if they witness swelling in the neck, hoarseness, or shortness of breath,” he said. “Some of the identified side effects of the drug are nausea, diarrhea, decreased appetite, vomiting, constipation and so on. In some patients, it might cause hypoglycemia which is low blood sugar. In this case, people might experience dizziness or light-headedness and drowsiness.”
He advised patients to consult their doctors or “report to a hospital immediately” if they experience any of the above symptoms.
Dr. Idrees Mubarik, a consultant endocrinologist at Saudi German Hospital Dubai, said the common side effects of the drug include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, bloating, and occasional pain abdomen. On occasion, it can cause inflammation of pancreas (pancreatitis) which presents as severe pain abdomen.
Like Ozempic, the demand for Mounjaro can lead to shortages, Dr. Inês Isabel Ferreira Barros, a specialist in endocrinology at International Modern hospital Dubai, told Al Arabiya English.
“We have been witnessing an unprecedented interest in the weight loss effect of some of the most recent medications for type 2 diabetes,” she said. “Tirzepatide, under the brand name Mounjaro, is the most recently approved medication for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. It’s the first drug in its class, a dual glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) receptor and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP) receptor agonist.”
The activation of both receptors increases the levels of incretin hormones, GLP-1 and GIP, secreted from the intestine on the ingestion of food, said the doctor.
“This mechanism of action has an addictive effect in the glucose-dependent insulin release, which is extremely effective in glucose levels’ reduction and insulin sensitivity enhancement. Besides improving diabetes, is also responsible for slowing gastric emptying and increasing the feeling of satiety, which leads to weight loss.”
“Mounjaro is available in the United Arab Emirates, but the search for this medication by patients with obesity leads to a supply shortage. Patients with type 2 diabetes are facing difficulties in obtaining the medication and comply with the treatment. The approval of Tirzepatide for obesity is expected to come this year and its pharmaceutical company declared efforts to combat the supply shortage.”
Globally, experts believe that the FDA will approve tirzepatide for weight loss.
Endocrinologist and obesity medicine specialist Dr. Scott Isaacs told Insider this week: “We do expect that it will be approved for the treatment for obesity,” although it's not clear how soon.
In the meantime, patients can still access the drug.
Since tirzepatide is already FDA-approved for use with diabetes, doctors are able to prescribe it to patients, even for a different purpose.
Tirzapetide works by acting on a hormone called GLP-1, which controls appetite, causing the patient to feel fuller. Tirzapetide uniquely also acts on another hormone related to insulin.
Some research has claimed that tirzepatide is more effective for weight loss than other medications, based on a clinical trial showing more pounds lost.
But Isaacs said evidence is inconclusive, since the study was designed to focus on diabetes, not weight loss.
Doctors have warned that the downside of weight loss medications like tirzepatide and semaglutide is that studies have shown patients have to continue taking the medication to maintain the weight loss.
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