Recent studies show that certain injectable diabetes drugs can help with weight loss in addition to blood sugar management. In combination with diet and exercise, they may help a person with type 2 diabetes maintain weight loss.

Although drugs such as semaglutide (Ozempic) and liraglutide (Saxenda) have gained popularity online, they are designed for people with obesity or overweight and additional weight-related comorbidities such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure. The manufacturers did not create them for general use.

These medications work by mimicking gut peptides, which help regulate a person’s blood sugar. Research has found that, in conjunction with healthy lifestyle habits, these medications can help people lose significant weight or maintain weight loss.

However, these drugs do have possible side effects. Before starting to take one of these medications, it is important to weigh the benefits against the potential side effects and other risks.

Read on to learn about different diabetes drugs for weight loss, how they work, side effects, benefits, and more.

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Injectable diabetes drugs for weight loss mimic the gut peptides that help regulate blood sugar. Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP) are both incretin hormones, or gut peptides. They are involved in blood sugar management.

Incretin hormones cause the body to produce more insulin when a person consumes sugar orally than when a person receives glucose through an IV. This is called the incretin effect. In people with type 2 diabetes, the incretin effect is either decreased or absent.

That is when GLP-1 receptor agonists and GIP receptor agonists can step in to manage blood sugar and, as recent studies have shown, help with weight loss.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a small handful of GLP-1 receptor agonists and GIP receptor agonists for weight loss in people who have obesity or who have overweight and another weight-related health condition. This category includes the following medications:

Semaglutide (Wegovy, Ozempic)

Semaglutide is a GLP-1 receptor agonist available as an injectable liquid solution under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy. These are both FDA-approved treatments for chronic weight management that come in once-weekly, pre-filled single-dose subcutaneous injection pens.

Ozempic is available in the following strengths:

  • 2 milligrams of semaglutide in 1.5 milliliters of solution (2 mg/1.5 mL)
  • 4 mg/3 mL
  • 8 mg/3 mL

Wegovy is available in the following strengths:

  • 0.25 mg/0.5 mL
  • 0.5 mg/0.5 mL
  • 1 mg/0.5 mL
  • 1.7 mg/0.75 mL
  • 2.4 mg/0.75 mL

Tirzepatide (Mounjaro)

Tirzepatide is a GIP receptor agonist that activates both the GLP-1 and GIP receptors to improve blood sugar regulation. This dual effect may make tirzepatide more effective than other injectable diabetes medications. It is available as an injectable liquid solution under the brand name Mounjaro.

Currently, Mounjaro is FDA-approved for managing blood sugar levels in adults with type 2 diabetes.

However, because of the drug’s potential as a weight loss aid, in October 2022 the FDA granted Eli Lilly and Company the Fast Track designation to investigate tirzepatide as a treatment for obesity or overweight in adults.

Mounjaro is a weekly injection with pre-filled single-dose pens available in the following strengths:

  • 2.5 mg/0.5 mL
  • 5 mg/0.5 mL
  • 7.5 mg/0.5 mL
  • 10 mg/0.5 mL
  • 12.5 mg/0.5 mL
  • 15 mg/0.5 mL

Liraglutide (Saxenda)

Like semaglutide, liraglutide is a GLP-1 receptor agonist. It is available as an injectable liquid solution under the brand names Saxenda and Victoza.

However, only Saxenda has FDA approval as a weight loss aid. Healthcare professionals prescribe Victoza to manage blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions such as heart attack and stroke.

Saxenda is a daily injection with pre-filled single-use pens containing 18 mg of liraglutide in 3 mL of solution.

Learn more about Saxenda vs. Victoza.

These injectable diabetes drugs may help a person lose weight when diet changes and exercise are not enough. They may help someone lose weight faster and keep it off longer.

For example, a 2021 clinical trial found that the use of 2.4 mg of semaglutide once per week in combination with diet and exercise had an association with significant, sustained weight loss. By week 68, participants in the semaglutide group had lost 14.9% of their starting body weight — much higher than the 2.4% loss in the placebo group.

A 2022 clinical trial involving tirzepatide once weekly showed similar results. At week 72, participants who had been taking 5 mg, 10 mg, or 15 mg of tirzepatide daily recorded a 15%, 19.5%, and 20.9% decrease in body weight, respectively.

While these results are significant, it is important to note that these were long-term studies pairing medication with lifestyle strategies such as diet and exercise. The medication alone cannot provide short-term, healthy weight loss.

Some of the most common side effects of these medications are:

  • decreased appetite
  • indigestion
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • diarrhea

Possible serious risks and side effects include:

  • serious allergic reactions
  • low blood sugar
  • diabetic retinopathy complications
  • severe stomach, gallbladder, or kidney problems
  • inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)

Rodent studies have also shown that semaglutide, tirzepatide, and liraglutide can cause thyroid C-cell tumors. Health experts do not yet know whether these injectable diabetes drugs can cause tumors in humans, but it is important to understand the risk. All of these medications have FDA boxed warnings.

Manufacturers generally warn against using these drugs if a person has a personal or family history of:

Learn more about the side effects of semaglutide (Ozempic).

Expert insight

“Only two anti-diabetic medications are FDA-approved for weight management in people who do not have diabetes: Semaglutide (Wegovy) and Liraglutide (Saxenda). Ozempic and Rybelsus are two other brands of Semaglutide on the market that are approved by the FDA for glycemic control in diabetes but not for weight management.

Ozempic is only prescribed to type 2 diabetic patients for the sole purpose of glycemic control. Because of the increased risk of adverse reactions, it is not recommended for use in the absence of diabetes. This medication’s safety profile has not been studied in patients under the age of 18, pregnant and lactating people, or those with normal BMIs.”

Kimberly Langdon, MD

Injectable diabetes drugs for weight loss are intended for people who either have obesity or have overweight and another weight-related medical condition.

Healthcare professionals may classify a person as having obesity or overweight based on body mass index (BMI), a measurement of weight in relation to height. For adults, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines overweight as a BMI of 25 or higher and obesity as a BMI of 30 or higher.

Weight-related medical conditions include:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • high LDL (“bad”) or low HDL (“good”) cholesterol
  • coronary heart disease
  • stroke

Thus, the ideal candidate for these medications is a person who has obesity or has overweight and a medical condition such as type 2 diabetes or hypertension. Some doctors may prescribe injectable diabetes drugs for weight loss if a person has overweight or obesity and has indications of prediabetes.

Manufacturers did not design these drugs for use in otherwise healthy people who only want to lose weight. Despite their popularity on social media, these medications carry significant risks and can be harmful to people who do not need them.

Furthermore, it is not advisable for people to use injectable diabetes drugs for weight loss if they:

  • are pregnant or may become pregnant, are nursing, or are planning on nursing
  • have a personal or family history of thyroid cancer
  • have a personal history of MEN 2

Expert insight

“Ozempic helps regulate blood glucose by stimulating the pancreas to release more insulin when blood glucose levels are elevated. This can cause severe hypoglycemia (low blood sugar levels) in people who do not have diabetes, necessitating immediate medical attention.

Other serious side effects include pancreatitis (pancreatic inflammation), the development of thyroid tumors, and gallbladder problems.”

Kimberly Langdon, MD

People who have obesity or who have overweight and another weight-related medical condition and have been unable to lose weight with diet and exercise alone may find certain injectable diabetes drugs helpful for losing weight.

Potential side effects range from common nausea and indigestion to more severe stomach, gallbladder, and kidney problems.

People who have a personal or family history of thyroid cancer should not use injectable diabetes drugs for weight loss.