A Diabetes Drug May Soon Be Approved For Weight Loss In The US & Here's What You Should Know

It's similar to the trendy Ozempic drug.

Associate Editor, Global
A woman adjusting the insulin dose on an injection. Right: A person stepping onto a scale.

A woman adjusting the insulin dose on an injection. Right: A person stepping onto a scale.

A drug used to treat type two diabetes may soon be approved for weight loss in the United States, opening up another option for those who are thinking about trying Ozempic.

A drug called tirzepatide has proven effective at treating obesity in studies, and some doctors are looking forward to it being approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2023.

While the FDA has not promised that approval, Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford tells Narcity she expects it to go through.

"We know that these medications typically will receive approval for obesity after they have previously been approved for type two diabetes," says Dr. Stanford, an obesity medicine physician-scientist at the Massachusetts General Hospital.

"I think it's a really great thing. We already know that medications that fall within this class (...) are very, very helpful for the treatment."

The FDA told Narcity that it "cannot confirm, deny or comment on the existence of a pending/potential product application."

Still, that hasn't stopped doctors from preparing for that big Okay.

If tirzepatide gets approved, it'll become a new competitor for Ozempic (a.k.a. semaglutide), another diabetes medication that is also used for weight loss.

Ozempic has become popular on social media as a fast way to lose weight, and some celebrities, including Elon Musk, have said it makes a big difference.

As we wait to see what happens with the FDA, here's what you should know about tirzepatide.

What is tirzepatide?

In May 2022, the FDA approved tirzepatide (sold under the brand name Mounjaro), to improve blood sugar control in adults with type two diabetes.

Just like Ozempic, tirzepatide is an injection that's taken weekly in the stomach, arm or thigh.

Is tirzepatide approved for weight loss?

The FDA had not approved tirzepatide for weight loss as of January 2023, but experts expect it to happen later in the year. Ozempic and its competitors mimic one of two hormones that help you regulate your appetite.

Stanford says tizerpatide is the first drug to mimic both of those hormones at once, meaning it can have an even greater impact on your appetite.

"When you combine these two hormones together, they do play a large role in regulating metabolic health," she explained.

Does tirzepatide work for weight loss?

According to a 2022 clinical trial, tirzepatide has proven to be successful in terms of weight loss.

Researchers found that a high dose of the drug helped patients lose over 50 pounds or an average of 22.5% of their body weight over about 16 months.

American comedian Rosie O'Donnell recently admitted that tirzepatide helped her lose 10 pounds in a TikTok video, along with more exercise and cutting back on soda.

It's important to note that O'Donnell was prescribed the drug to treat her type two diabetes, which she confirmed in another TikTok video.

Do experts recommend tirzepatide for weight loss?

Dr. Stanford says that when it comes to using diabetes medication for weight loss, it's about finding the right medication for the right person.

"This medication will have the highest level of efficacy on average, and notice that I say 'on average.' There will be responders, there will be non-responders, just like with any other agent that we use to treat obesity."

"What I mean by that is that on average, we see a 22.5% total body weight loss from tirzepatide."

Due to it being so powerful, Stanford says the drug will likely be "best suited in those with higher degrees of excess body weight."

What are the risks around tirzepatide?

One important factor Stanford wants people to consider if they do decide to try tirzepatide for weight loss is that it will be a "lifelong commitment."

In other words, it's difficult for you to go onto the drug and then off of it.

"These medications act on how the brain, body, pancreas and stomach see weight," she explained.

"When you pull the medication back, meaning you don't administer it, you're no longer acting on the brain, the body, pancreas or the stomach to drive weight regulation."

That's what seemingly happened to TikTok creator and model Remi Bader when taking Ozempic.

In an episode of the podcast Not Skinny Not Fat, Bader said she gained double the weight back after she stopped taking Ozempic.

Another important factor to keep in mind is that a dramatic shift in weight can cause changes in a person's face.

Some users have reported accelerated aging in their face, which one doctor recently labelled as "Ozempic face."

Will there be a tirzepatide shortage for diabetes patients?

All the weight-loss interest around Ozempic and Wgovy has led to shortages for diabetes patients who rely on them, according to the FDA website.

Some people may be left wondering if the same thing will happen after tirzepatide gets approved.

The FDA says there's already a tirzepatide shortage, so approval would only add to that issue.

Stanford says shortages, like we saw happen with Ozempic, are multifactorial and not just linked to popularity in Hollywood.

"It's important to recognize that 80% of patients with type two diabetes actually have obesity," she told Narcity.

"It's important to note that the shortage is not just due to the popular demand through social media," she said, adding that supply chain issues also add to the problem.

She says it could become a "pervasive issue" if tirzepatide takes off as a weight loss drug.

"We have over 110 million adults [in the U.S.] with the disease of obesity. That's a lot of people."

Can you buy tirzepatide in Canada?

Health Canada approuved tirzepatide for the treatment of type two diabetes in November 2022.

However, the health authority tells Narcity that tirzepatide is not currently under review for weight loss.

"Note that the Canadian and U.S. drug approval processes are completely independent processes in two different countries. While we work collaboratively on a lot of issues, the FDA’s decisions have no impact in Canada," Health Canada said in a statement.

This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.

Asymina Kantorowicz
Associate Editor, Global
Asymina Kantorowicz is an Associate Editor for Narcity’s Global Desk focused on celebrity and health news and is based in Victoria, British Columbia.
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