The diabetes and weight-loss drug Ozempic does not appear to harm a developing fetus when taken by pregnant women, a new study reports.
Researchers found no elevated risk of birth defects among newborns of women who took medications to control their type 2 diabetes, compared with those who took insulin.
During the decade-long study, researchers saw an increase in people trying to control their diabetes using drugs rather than relying on insulin injections.
In particular, medications within the same class as Ozempic (semaglutide) – GLP-1 receptor agonists – became more popular as time went on.
“As type 2 diabetes becomes a more common condition among women of reproductive age, and with the recent approval of GLP-1 receptor agonists such as semaglutide to treat obesity, the number of exposed pregnancies is likely to increase. Our findings provide initial reassurance of safety for infants prenatally exposed to these medications,” said lead researcher Carolyn Cesta, an assistant professor at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
GLP-1 receptor agonists work by mimicking the function of GLP-1, a naturally occurring hormone produced by the small intestine.
Both the hormone and the drug slow stomach emptying, increase the feeling of fullness after eating, and control hormones related to blood sugar levels like insulin and glucagon.
For the study, Cesta and her colleagues examined the outcomes of more than 3.5 million pregnancies in the United States, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Israel between 2009 and 2021.
Among those pregnancies, about 1.5% were among women who had type 2 diabetes.
Between three months before and three months after conception, nearly three out of 10 pregnant women with diabetes filled a prescription for a diabetes medication.
Overall, about 5.6% of infants born of mothers with type 2 diabetes had birth defects, compared to 3.8% of infants in the general population, researchers found.
Looking specifically at heart defects, researchers found that they occurred in 2.3% of babies with type 2 diabetic moms compared with 1.3% of newborns in the general population.
However, the researchers found no greater risk of birth defects in babies whose moms took diabetes drugs versus those who controlled their blood sugar with insulin.
Those diabetes drugs included GLP-1 receptor agonists, sulfonylureas, DPP-4 inhibitors and SGLT2 inhibitors.
The new study was published Dec. 11 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
“As more and more parents and their health care providers search for evidence on the safety of these medications, our research can help inform their decisions,” senior study author Sonia Hernández-Díaz, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a Harvard news release.
The American Diabetes Association has more about diabetes medications.
SOURCE: Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, news release, Dec. 11, 2023
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