Navigating GLP-1 Weight Loss Medication Treatment: Understanding Risks and Side Effects

By Brianna Manginelli, MS, CNS LDN, DSSFusion Functional Nutritionist

As we struggle to overcome the obesity epidemic in the US, the new FDA-approved weight loss medications are unquestionably front of mind. These medications offer promising results, but at what cost? Whether you are using GLP-1 medications or considering them, it is essential to be aware of the possible side effects and complications that go along with taking any medication.

Know the Risks!

GLP-1 agonists like Ozempic work by reducing hunger signals and delaying stomach emptying, ultimately leading to weight loss. The most common side effects reported to date have been malnourishment, due to a dramatic reduction in calorie intake, and significant gastrointestinal symptoms.

Several patients have also reported facial and body muscle mass loss. The term “Ozempic Face” refers to a hollowed appearance, changes in facial features or an increase in facial wrinkling as a result of rapid weight loss. Loss of muscle in the rest of the body can decrease balance, fracture risk and overall strength and coordination.

To overcome facial and body muscle loss, we recommend whole food nourishment with ample protein and incorporating light strength training a few times a week. Both can effectively preserve essential muscle mass, particularly in people over 40.

Today, the biggest unknown is the long-term health ramifications of using weight loss medications for the short-term and long-term. Nonetheless, the FDA has required pharmaceutical companies to add patient warning messages to the product packaging.

Potential Ozempic, Mounjaro, Wegovy and Zepbound side effects

To date, researchers have reported these possible health complications GLP-1 medication users should watch for:

Gastrointestinal Issues

Gastroparesis, where the movement of food out of the stomach is slowed or stalled, has been identified by clinicians as a potential danger.

  • Bowel and bile duct blockage, both painful and dangerous conditions where the flow of food in the intestines is blocked, sometimes requiring emergency surgery.
  • More common short-term discomforts include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. These side effects are usually mild and temporary; although they sometimes require discontinued use.

Gallstone Attacks (gallbladder attack)

The National Institute of Health reported this year that GLP-1 RAs may be associated with an increased risk of gallbladder or biliary diseases since GLP-1 inhibits gallbladder motility and delays gallbladder emptying by suppressing the secretion of the hormone cholecystokinin.

Low Blood Sugar (Hypoglycemia)

GLP-1 medications help your body produce more insulin, which can lead to blood sugar levels dropping too low. This is more likely if you take GLP-1 medications with other diabetes medications like sulfonylureas or insulin. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include sweating, shakiness, and dizziness.

Increased Risk of Thyroid and Other Cancers

The FDA now requires a black box warning about this potential risk on these medications. People with a personal or family history of thyroid cancer (medullary thyroid carcinoma), in particular, are advised against using GLP-1 medications.

Pancreatitis

Although less common, some studies have shown an increased risk of pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, in patients using GLP-1 medications. This risk appears to be higher in people with a history of pancreatitis or risk factors for it, such as heavy alcohol use or gallstones.

In the event you experience discomfort or a negative change in health that lasts more than a few days, contact your healthcare provider for a prompt appointment to discuss your symptoms.

Consider alternative forms of weight management

It is important to consider low to no-risk alternatives such as nutrition and lifestyle changes.
Working with a trusted and knowledgeable integrative health practitioner can help you achieve your health and fitness goals with a personalized approach utilizing various tools, nutritional supplements and functional and/or genetic testing when appropriate.

In addition to achieving healthy weight loss while preventing potential serious side-effects associated with medications; opting for this approach can further enhance your immune system, reduce inflammation, improve energy, and help you feel your best!

If you prefer to pursue a drug-free route to weight loss or weight management, contact us at Fusion Integrative & Functional Medicine to set up a prompt appointment to discuss your goals.

About Functional Nutritionist Brianna Manginelli

Brianna is a certified functional nutritionist at Fusion Integrative & Functional Medicine in Marlboro, NJ. She specializes in working with people managing medical conditions or seeking to optimize their health using whole foods, nutraceuticals and other integrative modalities. To learn more or speak with Brianna, call 732-631-4410 or email her directly at brianna@fusionifm.com.

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