Written on August 21, 2023 by Gillian (Gigi) Singer, MPH. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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Semaglutide is a medication that has been developed as a treatment for type 2 diabetes, a chronic condition that affects millions of people worldwide. This medication has shown promising results in improving blood glucose control and weight loss in patients with type 2 diabetes. This injectable “is in a class of medications called incretin mimetics. It works by helping the pancreas to release the right amount of insulin when blood sugar levels are high. Insulin helps move sugar from the blood into other body tissues where it is used for energy.”
According to the CDC, more than 37 million Americans live with diabetes—that’s about 1 in 10 people. Of those 37 million people, it is estimated that 90-95% have type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is caused by insulin resistance and most commonly develops after the age of 45, but younger people are also diagnosed. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows glucose to enter cells for energy. In type 2 diabetes, cells do not respond properly to insulin, leading to insulin resistance. To compensate, the pancreas produces more insulin, but eventually, it becomes unable to keep up with demand, resulting in high blood sugar levels. High blood sugar can cause serious health issues such as heart disease, kidney disease, and vision loss.
Semaglutide is available as a liquid solution administered subcutaneously (under the skin) using a prefilled dosing pen. It can be injected once a week regardless of food intake and should be used on the same day each week at any time of day. You can change the weekly injection day as long as it has been at least 48 hours since your last dose.
Semaglutide is a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist, or a type of medication that mimics the effects of GLP-1 in the body. Using semaglutide results in increased insulin secretion from the pancreas and a decrease in glucagon secretion, a hormone that raises blood glucose levels. It also slows down the emptying of the stomach, leading to a feeling of fullness and decreased food intake.
According to clinical trials, when compared to other medications and placebo treatments, semaglutide use has proven effective by providing the following benefits.
Semaglutide was shown to significantly reduce levels of hemoglobin A1c (average blood sugar/glucose level was over the past couple of months), which is an indicator for long-term blood glucose control.[3,4,5]
Semaglutide has also been shown to lead to significant weight loss in patients with type 2 diabetes, which can have a positive impact on overall health and reduce the risk of other chronic conditions such as heart disease and stroke.[3,6]
The CDC explains, “If you have diabetes, you’re twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke than someone who doesn’t have diabetes—and at a younger age. The longer you have diabetes, the more likely you are to have heart disease.” Semaglutide has been shown to reduce the risk of major adverse cardiovascular events, such as heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular death, in patients with type 2 diabetes who are at high risk of these events.
Like any medication, semaglutide can have potential risks and side effects. The most common side effects of semaglutide include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, but these side effects usually go away after a few days/weeks of use.[3,6]
Semaglutide use has the potential for serious side effects, such as pancreatitis and thyroid cancer, but the risk is super low and the benefits of the medication often outweigh these risks.
Semaglutide is a promising medication for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, offering improved blood glucose control, weight loss, and a lower risk of cardiovascular events. It works by activating the GLP-1 receptor, leading to increased insulin secretion and reduced food intake. While semaglutide has some potential risks and side effects, they are generally rare and outweighed by the potential benefits of the medication.
If you have type 2 diabetes and/or could benefit from weight loss, it is important to speak with a healthcare provider about whether semaglutide is a suitable treatment option for you. With the Everlywell telehealth option for online weight loss, it's easy to connect and speak with a licensed clinician.