Researchers have found two popular diabetes medications — Byetta and Victoza — reduce appetite in patients both with and without the disease, possibly making them viable weight loss drugs.
Currently, the medications are prescribed for type 2 diabetics to help control their blood sugar. But a new research review, published in British Medical Journal, reanalyzed data from 25 separate studies and found the drugs helped overweight people without diabetes lose about 7 pounds and those with diabetes lose about 6 pounds over the course of five months.
“It’s not a cure, but it’s a good treatment. And you still need to combine it with lifestyle changes,” said researcher Tina Vilsboll, MD, DMSc, an endocrinologist and associate professor at Gentofte Hospital in Hellerup, Denmark. She said that the weight loss many of her patients have had while using the medications has helped inspire them to lose even more.
Both drugs work, in part, by slowing the movement of food through the stomach, which can lessen appetites. And while nausea or vomiting may be side effects, Dr. Vilsboll says they gradually diminish over time.
Large studies testing the drugs for weight loss in people without diabetes are ongoing, and until those results are known, some doctors are hesitant to prescribe them for off-label use.
Byetta and Victoza are already known to be associated with uncommon but potentially serious health risks, said Raj Padwal, MD, an associate professor of internal medicine at the Walter C. Mackenzie Health Sciences Centre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Susan Spratt, MD, an endocrinologist and the director of diabetes services at Duke University Health System in Durham, N.C. said that while the drugs’ long-term safety is still unknown, being able to eventually use them to treat obesity “would be a fantastic addition” to a weight-loss arsenal.