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What Are GLP-1s?

by | Feb 29, 2024 | Last updated Mar 11, 2024

What are GLP-1s

For anyone struggling with weight management, navigating the ever-evolving landscape of solutions can be overwhelming. One buzzword currently heard in the wellness world is GLP-1. But exactly what are GLP-1s, and how are they revolutionizing weight management? Let’s dive into the world of GLP-1s.

The science behind the buzz

GLP-1, short for glucagon-like peptide-1, is actually a naturally occurring hormone produced in your gut. GLP-1 plays a crucial role in regulating your blood sugar and appetite.

Understanding our natural GLP-1 led scientists to develop what are known as GLP-1 receptor agonists (or GLP-1-RAs) — medications that mimic or boost the effects of natural GLP-1. When you hear people talking about popular weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy … these are examples of GLP-1s.

But here’s the thing. These medications were initially used to help patients manage their type 2 diabetes. They help the body make insulin and stop glucagon (a hormone produced in the pancreas) from raising sugar when blood sugar is already high. Lower blood sugar levels help control type 2 diabetes. 

But then it was discovered that these drugs also assist with weight loss. That’s when the game changed.

The weight loss benefits of GLP-1s

  • Appetite reduction: GLP-1s play a pivotal role in curbing appetite, making it easier to manage your food intake. This reduction in hunger contributes significantly to weight loss over time.
  • Improved satiety: GLP-1s also increase feelings of fullness by making food move more slowly from the stomach to the small intestine. This improved satiety is a critical factor in sustained weight loss.
  • Fat utilization: GLP-1s promote the utilization of stored fat for energy, aiding in the breakdown of fat cells. This process contributes to weight loss and enhances overall metabolic health.

Brand names you may hear

Multiple GLP-1 receptor agonists are currently available, with more in the pipeline. Some of the most prominent brands include:

  • Semaglutide: The active ingredient in Ozempic® and Wegovy®, it’s approved for both diabetes and weight management, with Wegovy boasting the highest dose for significant weight loss. (Note: Ozempic is only FDA approved to treat Type 2 Diabetes.  Wegovy is FDA approved for medical weight loss purposes.)
  • Tirzepatide: Found in Zepbound and Mounjaro®, this medication works differently by activating GIP (a different hormone produced in the upper gut and secreted in response to the ingestion of foods, especially fatty foods, and GLP-1 pathways together to manage blood sugar. (Note: Mounjaro is only FDA approved to treat Type 2 Diabetes. Zepbound is FDA approved for medical weight loss purposes.)
  • Liraglutide: Popularly known as Victoza® and Saxenda®, this medication has been approved for both type 2 diabetes and weight management. (Note: Victoza is only FDA approved to treat Type 2 Diabetes.  Saxenda is FDA approved for medical weight loss purposes.)
  • Dulaglutide: Sold under the brand name Trulicity®, dulaglutide is primarily used for managing type 2 diabetes but has shown promise in weight management studies.

What are GLP-1s beyond the scale?

While weight management is where GLP-1s shine (and understandably so!), research is uncovering exciting potential in various other health areas:

  • Heart health: Studies show GLP-1s like semaglutide can significantly reduce the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular-related deaths, especially in individuals with existing heart disease.
  • Liver health: Fatty liver disease is a growing concern, but GLP-1s offer hope. Studies suggest they can significantly improve liver function and potentially reverse the disease in some cases.
  • Cognitive function: Early research suggests GLP-1s might protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by improving insulin resistance and signaling pathways while reducing weight.
  • Immune system: GLP-1s seem to boost the activity of natural “killer” cells, our immune system’s warriors against infections and potentially even cancer. This opens doors to applications in various immune-related disorders.

Important considerations around GLP-1s

Here are some important things to keep in mind if you’re considering a GLP-1…

  • These are prescription medications: Consulting your doctor is crucial to determine if they’re right for you and to address any potential risks or interactions with other medications you may be taking. You also shouldn’t start or stop taking any medication without consulting with your doctor.
  • They’re not magic bullets: While effective, GLP-1s work best alongside a healthy lifestyle that includes nutritious eating and regular exercise.
  • Side effects can occur: Some common side effects include nausea, vomiting, and constipation — particularly during the initial stages of treatment — though often temporary and manageable.

The GLP-1 revolution: Just getting started?

The future of GLP-1s is brimming with possibilities. As research continues to unveil their potential, they emerge as powerful tools in battling various health challenges, weight management, and promoting overall well-being.

Please consult your doctor or clinician to discuss your needs and explore whether GLP-1s could be part of your health journey.

Note: GLP-1s, like Ozempic, are not FDA approved to treat obesity or for weight loss.


Linda Anegawa, MD is Noom’s Chief Medical Officer where she brings decades of experience in academic primary care, bariatrics, advisory board service, and leadership in digital health. She is certified by the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the National Board of Physicians and Surgeons, and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.