A man holds an injection device used for OzempicShare on Pinterest
Researchers say semaglutide drugs may also help with heart and kidney health by reducing inflammation. Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • Research suggests popular weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy that contain semaglutide may have additional benefits.
  • These drug are used to manage type 2 diabetes and to promote weight loss, but researchers are reporting it is also highly effective at reducing inflammation.
  • Experts say this is good news for people who are living with type 2 diabetes and obesity as these drugs can reduce complications as well as promote weight loss.

Researchers in Australia say they have discovered additional benefits to the type 2 diabetes and weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy that contain the active ingredient semaglutide.

A study published today in the journal Kidney International reports that as well as being effective for weight loss and blood glucose control, semaglutide drugs may also be highly effective at reducing inflammation.

“We’ve discovered that these drugs not only improve diabetes and lose weight, but seem to have a benefit in the heart and kidney. And this has been a bit of a surprise, because the way the drugs historically worked, there was no clear cut explanation for why they would be beneficial in the kidney and the heart,” Mark Cooper, PhD, a co-author of the study and the head of the Department of Diabetes at Monash University in Australia, told Medical News Today.

“The studies showed that these drugs have extra effects, in addition to lowering glucose and reducing body weight, because they are very powerful at reducing inflammation,” he added. “And that’s very important because people who are overweight and people with diabetes who are taking these drugs have very high risk of kidney and heart disease. So it’s an extra benefit of this class of drugs, and it’s working through this action on inflammation.”

Ozempic is an injection that along with diet and exercise can help control blood sugar levels in people living with type 2 diabetes. It is also prescribed for weight loss in some people.

The drug works in the brain to reduce feelings of hunger as well as contributing to other changes in the body.

“(Ozempic) can enhance insulin secretion from the pancreas, decrease glucagon (which help lower blood sugar), can delay gastric emptying and leads to fullness,” Dr. Sun Kim, an endocrinologist at Stanford University in California who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today.

“These medications are preferred in patients with type 2 diabetes with overweight/obesity… and especially in patients with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Benefits include improved blood sugar, lower blood pressure, lower weight and cardiovascular benefits,” Kim added.

Cooper said it has been suspected that drugs such as Ozempic were doing much more than just controlling blood glucose and reducing body weight.

“It appears that for people, particularly diabetics, we’re getting less complications, which seemed to be independent of the glucose and body weight effect. So that’s why we did these studies. We’ve got new, more advanced molecular approaches now where we can really look in more detail at how a drug works,” he said.

The researchers used a new technique known as single cell sequencing to examine how Ozempic was working in the kidney. The kidneys are made up of at least 16 different types of cell populations and it was previously challenging to determine how a drug may be improving things in the kidney.

The researchers were able to use single cell sequencing to separate the cells and examine the genes in each of the cell populations.

“What we found out was, not only do certain cells have less inflammation, but indeed, the effect is not just in the kidney, but it’s actually occurring in the bloodstream acting through the bone marrow. So it’s a very interesting, more widespread effect than we expected,” Cooper said.

Inflammation can have a serious impact on the body.

Over the next 30 years, the prevalence of diseases that are associated with chronic inflammation is expected to increase in the United States.

Type 2 diabetes is a condition associated with inflammation.

About 38 million people in the United States have diabetes and of those 90% to 95% of them have type 2 diabetes.

“What inflammation does is… it’s inside the cells, and it can damage the kidneys, and it can damage your joints, and it can damage your blood vessels and it can do all sorts of things that aren’t good for you. And it can cause cancer,” Dr. Anne Peters, the director of the USC Clinical Diabetes Programs in California who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today.

Peters said the fact drugs like Ozempic can be used to reduce inflammation is great news.

“The fact that these drugs are really good for the kidneys, and good for the heart, makes them even more useful to us as clinicians, in terms of reducing inflammation,” she said.

“My patients who’ve been on these drugs for longer periods of time have shown what I consider stabilization of their kidney function. So instead of just getting worse, it seems to stay pretty stable,” she noted. “I couldn’t be more excited about the potential of these agents to help my patients because they get so many problems. From high blood sugars to cardiovascular disease to kidney damage to nerve damage, there’s so many complications.”

Ozempic has grown in popularity recently for its significant impact on weight loss.

Peters argues that while the drug is useful for diabetes management and for those with significant weight issues, the drug shouldn’t be considered a quick solution for weight loss for the general population.

“There’s a lot of people who take this because they want to lose five pounds or 10 pounds. I argue that I don’t care what medicine you’re on, you have to eat well, and exercise. It’s not like this is a cure, meaning you can take it and just eat anything you want. You could theoretically, but it’s not good for you,” she emphasized.

“Health comes from lifestyle. And this is an adjunct to lifestyle, no matter who you are. And I think if you only have to lose 10 pounds, or five pounds probably it’s better to just exercise and eat better than it is to start on a medication that you stop and then you gain the weight back,” Peters said.

Cooper argues the research demonstrates that Ozempic offers so much more than weight loss, especially for those living with diabetes and obesity.

“The story of Ozempic is more than just losing weight. It’s got some extra benefits. And I think that’s going to be very important in the long term as we really work this out,” he said.

“Giving these drugs will be more than just reducing body weight. But you’ll actually reduce the complications that occur as a result of diabetes and obesity. So it gives extra value for using these drugs,” Cooper added.