The Gut-Wrenching Truth: Are Ozempic and Wegovy Putting Your Stomach at Risk?

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New studies reveal that popular weight loss drugs Ozempic and Wegovy may significantly increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia and choking in patients undergoing endoscopies and other procedures requiring sedation. The drugs slow digestion, potentially leaving food in the stomach that can be inhaled into the lungs.

When Susan took her first dose of Ozempic, she hoped it would be the key to finally shedding those stubborn pounds. Little did she know, her quest for a slimmer figure could put her life on the line during her upcoming gallbladder surgery.

Susan is one of millions who have turned to glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs) like Ozempic (semaglutide) and Wegovy (higher dose semaglutide) in the hopes of losing weight.1 These blockbuster drugs work by mimicking the hormone GLP-1 to suppress appetite.2 However, alarming new research suggests they may come with a deadly hidden risk: aspiration pneumonia.

In a study of nearly 1 million patients undergoing endoscopies, a procedure that involves inserting a camera down the throat, those taking GLP-1 RAs had a shocking 33% higher risk of developing aspiration pneumonia compared to non-users.3 Aspiration pneumonia occurs when food, liquids, or saliva are inhaled into the lungs, potentially causing choking and respiratory failure.4 It claims the lives of almost 60,000 Americans each year.5

The research, led by Dr. Ali Rezaie at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, found that GLP-1 medications may heighten aspiration risk by slowing digestion, leaving undigested food sitting in the stomach.6 When patients are sedated for procedures like endoscopies, those stomach contents can travel up to the mouth and be sucked into the airways.7

"If significant, [aspiration] can lead to respiratory failure, ICU admission and even death," cautions Dr. Rezaie.8 "Even mild cases may require close monitoring, respiratory support and medications including antibiotics. It is important we take all possible precautions to prevent aspiration from occurring."9

To conduct the study, researchers analyzed data from 969,689 patients who underwent endoscopies between 2018-2020.10 They discovered that GLP-1 RA users had 33% higher odds of aspiration pneumonia compared to patients not on the weight loss drugs.11

Lead author Dr. Yee Hui Yeo emphasized the real-world implications, stating, "When we apply this risk to the more than 20 million endoscopies that are performed in the US each year, there may actually be a large number of cases where aspiration could be avoided if the patient safely stops their GLP-1RA medication in advance."12

These findings build upon earlier research linking GLP-1 RAs to rare but severe gastrointestinal complications. A 2023 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a heightened risk of stomach paralysis, bowel obstructions, and pancreatitis in patients taking the drugs for weight loss.13 Gastroparesis, or stomach paralysis, affected 10 out of every 1,000 Ozempic users and 7 per 1,000 Wegovy users.14

As the popularity of Ozempic and Wegovy soars, driven by celebrity endorsements and social media hype, experts caution that their widespread use could mean tens or hundreds of thousands suffering dangerous GI side effects.15 In August 2023, Novo Nordisk, maker of Ozempic and Wegovy, was sued by a woman alleging the drug caused her gastroparesis.16

While Novo Nordisk maintains "patient safety is a top priority" and lists potential complications on drug labels, some doctors argue clinical trials were not large enough to detect these rarer adverse events.17,18

For patients like Susan, the newfound aspiration dangers add to the complex risk-benefit analysis surrounding these weight loss wonder drugs. Dr. Yeo advises, "Patients taking these medications who are scheduled to undergo a procedure should communicate with their healthcare team well in advance to avoid unnecessary and unwanted complications."19

As research exposes the gut-wrenching hidden hazards of GLP-1 medications, those seeking to shed pounds must weigh the possibility of landing in the ICU against their dreams of a trimmer waistline. One thing is certain - Ozempic and Wegovy may leave some breathless in more ways than one.

Why Use Potentially Dangerous Pharmaceuticals When Natural Substances Are Safer and Potentially More Effective?

The GreenMedInfo.com database on Obesity outlines research on various anti-obesity agents, focusing on natural substances, foods, and vitamins that have been studied for their effects on overweight and obesity. Here is a summary of the top 10 anti-obesity agents mentioned as the most evidence supported on their database.

1) Curcumin: Exhibits a wide range of anti-obesity properties, positively influencing weight management and obesity-associated comorbidities through anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects.

2) Green Tea/EGCG: Associated with significant weight loss, reduced waist circumference, and improved metabolic markers, likely due to enhanced fat oxidation and anti-inflammatory properties.

3) Resveratrol: Demonstrates anti-obesity properties by improving metabolic profile, reducing fat accumulation, and enhancing mitochondrial capacity for fat oxidation.

4) Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Alleviate insulin resistance and fatty liver in obese individuals, contributing to obesity prevention and treatment.

5) Quercetin: Known for its potential in regulating obesity and obesity-induced inflammation, improving body composition, and enhancing insulin sensitivity.

6) Ginger and its constituents: Aid in attenuating diet-induced obesity and enhancing exercise endurance, with anti-inflammatory and anti-obesogenic properties.

7) Berberine: Inhibits adipocyte differentiation and has been shown to reduce body weight and improve glucose metabolism in obesity models.

8) Anthocyanins: Found in various berries, these compounds suppress fat accumulation and hyperglycemia, indicating their role in obesity management.

9) Probiotics: Including Lactobacillus strains, show promise in reducing body weight gain, improving glucose tolerance, and exerting anti-inflammatory effects in the context of obesity.

10) Vitamin D: Involved in the regulation of body weight and adipose tissue distribution, with deficiency linked to obesity and its metabolic complications.

The GreenMedInfo.com database contains over 500 natural substances that have been researched for their potential to assist with overweight or obesity issues. As foods, vitamins, and natural substances, they have a long history of safety and often bring additional health benefits beyond weight management.

For more detailed information, please refer to the original document and the GreenMedInfo database on Obesity: GreenMedInfo Obesity.


References

1. Nauck MA, Quast DR, Wefers J, Meier JJ. GLP-1 receptor agonists in the treatment of type 2 diabetes - state-of-the-Art. Mol Metab. 2021;46:101102. (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.molmet.2020.101102)

2. Yeo YH, Tringali A, Singh R, Bernstein E, Rezaie A. Glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonists increase risk of aspiration pneumonia after upper endoscopy: Observational analysis of the IBM Explorys Therapeutic Dataset. Gastroenterology. Published online March 27, 2024. (https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2024.03.1082)

3. Ibid.

4. Aziz KT, Syed HRS, Hirsch HP. Aspiration pneumonia. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; March 5, 2023. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470459/)

5. Xu J, Murphy SL, Kochanek KD, Arias E. Deaths: Final Data for 2019. Natl Vital Stat Rep. 2021;70(8):1-83. (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr70/nvsr70-08-508.pdf)

6. Yeo YH et al. Gastroenterology. Published online March 27, 2024. (https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2024.03.1082)

7. Ibid.

8. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Weight loss medications linked to severe complications from common procedures. News release. March 27, 2024. (https://www.cedars-sinai.org/newsroom/weight-loss-medications-linked-to-severe-complications-from-common-procedures/)

9. Ibid.

10. Yeo YH et al. Gastroenterology. Published online March 27, 2024. (https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2024.03.1082)

11. Ibid.

12. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center news release. March 27, 2024. (https://www.cedars-sinai.org/newsroom/weight-loss-medications-linked-to-severe-complications-from-common-procedures/)

13. Sodhi M, Rezaeianzadeh R, Kezouh A, Etminan M. Risk of Gastrointestinal Adverse Events Associated With Glucagon-like Peptide-1 Receptor Agonists for Weight Loss. JAMA. 2023;330(18):1795-1797. (https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2023.17856)

14. Ibid.

15. Lovelace B Jr. Popular weight loss drugs linked to rare but severe stomach problems, study finds. NBC News. October 5, 2023. (https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/weight-loss-drugs-ozempic-wegovy-linked-stomach-problems-study-fin-rcna52016)

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Sodhi M et al. JAMA. 2023;330(18):1795-1797. (https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2023.17856)

19. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center news release. March 27, 2024. (https://www.cedars-sinai.org/newsroom/weight-loss-medications-linked-to-severe-complications-from-common-procedures/)

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