Weight loss drugs like Ozempic and Zepbound can lead to better heart health for people struggling with excess weight or diabetes, a University of Michigan cardiologist says.
However, these medications help the heart best when combined with lifestyle changes like more exercise and a healthy diet, according to Dr. Eric Brandt, director of preventive cardiology at the University of Michigan Health Frankel Cardiovascular Center in Ann Arbor.
“I recommend to my patients that while they are taking them that they set better lifestyle habits,” Brandt said in a university news release. “This includes eating more whole plant-based foods, reducing calories from sugary beverages, stopping smoking, using stress reducing techniques such as meditation and committing to an exercise regimen.”
Poor diet and obesity are both independent risk factors for heart disease, Brandt said. In fact, diet has now eclipsed tobacco as the top contributor to premature death.
Healthy lifestyle habits remain the first-line treatment for obesity, elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure, he said.
“However, sometimes lifestyle changes are not enough, and this is the case for many people,” Brandt said. “Fortunately, there are now more treatments for obesity that are effective at helping with weight loss.”
A 2023 study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that semaglutide – the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy — decreased the risk of dangerous heart events by 20% among those over 45 years old who had preexisting cardiovascular disease and were overweight or obese, he said.
“These medications have been found to be helpful for several conditions, such as diabetes, weight loss, heart failure and heart attack,” Brandt said.
These medications appear to also affect other heart risk factors like blood pressure and cholesterol, Brandt said.
“Lowering body weight in someone with elevated blood pressure and cholesterol can help reduce these risk factors, as well as help prevent abnormal heart rhythms, heart failure and heart attacks,” he said.
Unfortunately, people tend to regain weight when they stop taking a GLP-1 agonist, Brandt said.
“Research is still being done to understand the best ways to come off of these medications,” he said.
That’s why he urges people to adopt lifestyle changes alongside the drugs, to improve their chances of keeping the extra pounds off.
“However, I also emphasize that obesity is a chronic disease and that sometimes we need to stay on long-term treatments,” Brandt said.
The American Heart Association has more about losing weight.
SOURCE: University of Michigan, news release, Feb. 8, 2024
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