Weight loss drugs Ozempic, Wegovy now linked to lower risk of major heart issues

BATON ROUGE, La. — A popular diabetic and weight loss drug may have a third life-changing benefit — lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers for Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University have discovered that semaglutide, better known under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy, can reduce the risk of major heart-related problems by up to 20 percent in people without diabetes.

While Ozempic and Wegovy are already known to reduce the possibility of cardiovascular events in diabetes patients, new data now shows its potential benefits for those without the condition. The findings come from the Semaglutide Effects on Heart Disease and Stroke in Patients with Overweight or Obesity (SELECT) study, one of the largest cardiovascular outcome studies in the field of obesity, with over 17,000 participants.

This study marks the first instance where a drug designed for weight loss has also shown effectiveness in reducing the occurrence of heart attacks, strokes, and related fatalities. Pennington Biomedical did not directly conduct the study in its clinic, but over 800 clinical sites in 41 countries participated in this double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial.

Participants in the study were 45 or older, had a history of cardiovascular disease, and had a body-mass index (BMI) of 27 or greater, without a history of diabetes. The study data revealed that participants who received a weekly subcutaneous 2.4 mg dose of semaglutide experienced a significant reduction in death from cardiovascular causes, non-fatal heart attacks, or non-fatal strokes.

“Semaglutide has ushered in a new era of medications for weight loss, and the results of the SELECT study are showing that its benefits extend beyond that of treating obesity,” says Dr. Donna Ryan, professor emeritus for Pennington Biomedical Research Center and the co-chair of the steering committee for the SELECT Study, in a media release. “With a significant reduction in the occurrence of heart disease, stroke and other adverse cardiovascular events, this medication is proving to be a new pathway to address the resulting effects of obesity and diabetes.”

Overweight woman applying medicine injection
Overweight woman applying medicine injection (© Mauricio – stock.adobe.com)

Previous studies, such as the LookAHEAD trial, had participants divided into two groups: one receiving intensive lifestyle interventions involving diet and exercise, and a control group. Despite achieving a six-percent weight reduction at 10 years through lifestyle interventions, this was not sufficient to reduce major adverse cardiovascular events (MACE) when compared to the control group with a 3.5-percent weight loss. Until now, no lifestyle intervention or anti-obesity medication study has achieved long-term weight reduction approaching the 10 percent threshold. The SELECT study demonstrated that substantial, long-term weight loss, close to 10 percent of body weight, was associated with a remarkable 20-percent reduction in MACE.

“Weight reduction is more than a matter of body image,” says Dr. Philip Schauer, director of the Metamor Institute, a Pennington Biomedical affiliated center for advanced treatment of obesity and diabetes. “The data from the SELECT study shows that weight loss approaching 10 percent body weight, generated from semaglutide or through other methods such as bariatric surgery, can reduce cardiovascular morbidity and save lives. This news may put more pressure on insurance providers to cover obesity treatment that achieves substantial weight loss and saves lives.”

It’s important to note that the trial only included patients with preexisting cardiovascular disease and events, and the effects of semaglutide on the primary prevention of cardiovascular events for overweight or obese individuals without a previous history of cardiovascular disease were not measured.

“The results of the SELECT study demonstrate the innovative drug therapies that are bound to shape the future, improving health for those with diabetes, prompting weight loss for those with obesity, and now reducing the adverse cardiovascular events for those at risk,” notes Dr. John Kirwan, executive director of Pennington Biomedical.

The study is published in The New England Journal of Medicine.

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