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Popular Weight Loss Drugs Also Help Users Lower Risk of Heart Disease, Diabetes, Perhaps Even Alcohol Misuse

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A new wave of prescription drugs is breaking ground by helping patients drop unwanted pounds, address Type-2 diabetes, reduce the risk of deadly heart problems, and possibly even help battle alcoholism.  

A small study of only six people who screened positive for alcohol use disorder showed a significant decrease in symptoms while using semaglutide, the active ingredient in the popular drugs Ozempic and Wegovy. The study will likely lead to a larger, more reliable one. 

Doctors view Ozempic and Wegovy, as well as similar drugs Mounjaro and Zepbound, as game changers. Studies show these drugs can help users lose an average of between five and twenty percent of their body weight, even if patients have tried unsuccessfully to lose weight in the past.  

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All four drugs target the body's hormones to increase the feeling of fullness, decrease hunger, and slow the gastrointestinal (G.I.) tract. They're FDA-approved to treat Type-2 diabetes, obesity, or both. The company Novo Nordisk makes Ozempic and Wegovy, which contain the active ingredient semaglutide, which targets one hormone.  

The drug company Eli Lilly manufactures Mounjaro and Zepbound, which contain the active ingredient tirzepatide, which targets two hormones. Research suggests Mounjaro and Zepbound lead to slightly more dramatic weight loss. 

All four drugs are administered through weekly injections in the abdomen by the patients themselves. Many users pay over $1,000 a month out of pocket for the treatments. Despite the cost, high demand is leading to shortages of the medications. 

"The fact of the matter is there's a lot of factors that go into the conditions of obesity and overweight. It's a complex, chronic condition.  It's not as simple as eating less and moving more. So they do have a major role," obesity medicine expert Dr. Jen Ashton told ABC News, "But insurance does not oftentimes cover them, they're incredibly expensive, and they have to be managed by someone who's familiar with this class of medications."

Like all medications, these carry some possible side effects. The most common ones are nausea, constipation, and abdominal pain.  

Research shows Ozempic and Wegovy lower the risk of death from heart attack or stroke by 20 percent after three years. 

Dr. Daniel Skovronsy, president of Eli Lilly research labs, said his company is encouraging insurance companies and employers to cover the medications so more customers can avoid paying out of pocket for them.  Many insurers currently do not pay for weight loss medications. 

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