Obesity drug cuts risk of heart attack or stroke 'regardless of weight lost’

Could anti-obesity jabs really reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes? ITV News Science Correspondent Martin Stew reports

Anti-obesity jabs could reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes or heart failure in obese people regardless of the amount of weight they lose while on the drug, according to a study funded by a drug manufacturer.

This suggests the treatment could have effects beyond reducing unhealthy body fat, researchers said.

The trial was run by company Novo Nordisk, which manufactures and markets all three varieties of the semaglutide jabs and is yet been peer-reviewed.

The five-year study explored whether the drug semaglutide, sold under the brand names Wegovy, Ozempic and Rybelsus, could reduce the risk of heart attacks or stroke in obese people without diabetes.

It is the largest and longest study of the drug, made up of 17,604 adults over the age of 45 from 41 countries.

After 20 weeks of being on semaglutide, 62% of patients had lost more than 5% of their bodyweight compared with 10% of patients in the placebo group.

However, the risk reduction of heart attacks, stroke or heart failure was similar in patients who lost more than 5% of their bodyweight and in those who lost less.

Semaglutide is sold under the brand names Ozempic, Wegovy and Rybelsus Credit: AP

Professor John Deanfield, who led the study, said the findings “have important clinical implications”.

“Our findings show that the magnitude of this treatment effect with semaglutide is independent of the amount of weight lost, suggesting that the drug has other actions which lower cardiovascular risk beyond reducing unhealthy body fat," he said.

“These alternative mechanisms may include positive impacts on blood sugar, blood pressure or inflammation, as well as direct effects on the heart muscle and blood vessels, or a combination of one or more of these.”

In August, researchers working on the Select trial found semaglutide reduced the risk of a heart attack or stroke in obese people with cardiovascular disease by a fifth.

But the drug, which had been hailed as a "game-changer", has also been linked to "severe gastrointestinal problems" in a separate study by the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Researchers said the jabs were found to heighten the probability of pancreatitis, bowel obstructions, and stomach paralysis in non-diabetics.

Doctors in the UK have also raised concerns around patient safety, amid a rise in people accessing Wegovy or Ozempic online without prescriptions.

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said she would urge patients to consider the implications of buying drugs online using unverified websites.

"There is no way of knowing that they are buying is what they think it is, and this can have serious consequence for their health."

An undercover investigation by ITV News uncovered unlicensed weight loss injections being sold in Wales

Professor Deanfield’s study is one of two pieces of research based on the Select trial that are being presented at the European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Venice.

The second, led by Professor Donna Ryan, looked at the long-term effect of semaglutide on weight.

They found weight loss using semaglutide can be sustained for up to four years in adults who are overweight or obese without diabetes.

Patients on semaglutide lost an average 10.2% of their body weight and 7.7cm from their waistline, compared with 1.5% and 1.3cm respectively in the group given a placebo.

After two years, some 52% of people treated with semaglutide had moved down to a lower BMI category compared with 16% in the placebo group.

Professor Ryan added: “This degree of weight loss in such a large and diverse population suggests that it may be possible to impact the public health burden of multiple obesity-related illnesses.

“While our trial focused on cardiovascular events, many other chronic diseases including several types of cancer, osteoarthritis, and anxiety and depression would benefit from effective weight management.”

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