Are Weight Loss Injectables Your Magic Pill? Risks, Side Effects, and Safe Practices

Doctor with green gloves holding a weight loss injectable with pills in the background.

Many people believe that weight loss injectables are a magical solution for weight loss, a notion I am passionate about dispelling. Given the widespread misconceptions about injectables, I am committed to cutting through the noise to bring you the truth. Whether you’re considering getting on weight loss injections or are already on them, it’s important to be informed about the capabilities of these powerful drugs and the side effects involved. They can be used safely and effectively with the right approach.

How Do Weight Loss Injections Work?

Two injectable medications are currently making waves: semaglutide and tirzepatide. You might be familiar with a semaglutide injection for weight loss called Ozempic, which was initially approved in 2015 exclusively for diabetes. In 2021, it was rebranded as Wegovy for weight loss purposes. Tirzepatide, introduced in May 2022, received approval under the name Mounjaro for diabetes treatment, and later in November 2023, it was approved as Zepbound for weight loss.

Both tirzepatide and semaglutide injections for weight loss require weekly dosing and function by targeting the GLP-1 receptor in our brain, which reduces our sense of hunger. This receptor is also present in our gut, and activating it influences how fat and insulin are absorbed. 

Tirzepatide stands out because it also targets GIP receptors (insulin receptors). It not only aids with food addictions but also appears to curb other vices, like smoking and gambling. It seems to have a positive effect on mood because individuals taking Mounjaro often feel happier and have improved sleep quality. This is believed to be related to serotonin. 

Risks to Consider with Weight Loss Injectables 

Weight loss injections can be highly effective when used properly, but it’s important to stay vigilant about the potential side effects and unexpected issues that can arise.

Appetite Suppression

These drugs are so powerful that they can shut off your appetite completely. I’ve seen individuals on higher doses who lose all interest in food. Even more concerning is that they’re also not drinking water. This behavior is a significant issue I’ve encountered, and it’s something many of us in the field of obesity management didn’t anticipate. Sometimes we’ve had to substantially reduce the dosage until we find that perfect balance where the individual can control his or her appetite but still maintain the desire to eat and drink.

Slowed Gastric Emptying

These drugs slow down gastric emptying—the rate at which food passes through the gut. So if you’re someone accustomed to eating quickly—perhaps from growing up in a home where meals felt like a race to eat everything on the table before anyone else could—you might find these drugs challenging. They can also make you feel sick when you first start taking them because food doesn’t move through your stomach as easily. As a result, you’ll need to adjust by pacing yourself and eating more slowly.

Bowel Issues

If you naturally have slower bowel movements, these drugs could make you prone to bowel obstructions, a serious risk that could require surgery or in severe cases, could be fatal. Therefore, it’s crucial to be monitored by a medical team while on these drugs. They can help manage the complex aspects and nuances of injectable side effects, ensuring your safety and well-being.

Muscle Loss

Although higher doses of weight loss injections may result in significant weight loss and an attractive scale reading, the accompanying side effects of muscle loss often occurs due to fasting. Losing muscle slows down your metabolism, making it more challenging to continue losing weight and maintain that weight loss. This can result in what’s known as being “skinny fat,” where your scale weight and BMI might look favorable, but your body fat percentage is high.

This problem occurs because you’re not consuming enough protein, which is vital for retaining nutrients and maintaining muscle mass. A lack of protein can also reduce albumin levels in your blood, which play a critical role in fighting infections and maintaining nutritional health. Being followed by a clinician and having a solid nutrition plan in place is essential.

Careful Dosing

The proper way to use injectables is to gradually increase the dosage, typically taking about four weeks to progress from the starting dose to the next level. Increasing the dosage too quickly can lead to illness, as your gut may not be accustomed to the heightened presence of GLP-1 in your system. If you have to stop taking these drugs due to insurance or supply chain issues, attempting to resume at the previously high dose can make you severely ill. Individuals may experience vomiting for days or even weeks, often without seeking medical advice from a physician or healthcare provider.

Mood Swings

Another point to consider is the impact on your mood if you’re taking a medication that influences serotonin levels. Fluctuations in medication availability and dosing can lead to significant mood swings. These changes can also affect sleep patterns, mood stability, energy levels, fatigue, and anxiety. The variability in serotonin modulation can have a broad impact on your overall well-being.

A Balanced Approach: Using Weight Loss Injectables Safely and Effectively

The key takeaway is this: if you decide to use these effective medications, it’s important to do it the right way–using a multidisciplinary approach guided by a clinical team that can monitor your overall health along the journey.

And remember, injectables are not the only option for weight loss. If you are struggling with obesity, the best thing to do is go to a credible obesity medicine physician for a recommendation on the best plan of action. They will help come up with an individualized approach for you to lose weight healthily and achieve sustainable results! 

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