February 24, 2024

CLOCK: What happens to your body when you stop taking weight loss drugs

Teresa Shepherd said she lost 90 pounds while taking an off-brand version of the drug Ozempic for about eight months.

Shepherd, who lives in Florida, told “Good Morning America” ​​that she was able to maintain her weight loss two months after stopping treatment.

“I started working out, so now I work out several times a week,” Shepherd said of how she’s managed to keep the weight off. “You have to be aware of staying with what you did, and not falling back into old habits for sure.”

VIDEO: What happens to your body when you stop taking weight loss drugs

As the popularity of drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy, and Mounjaro has grown, so have headlines about the potential downsides of the drugs, including weight gain after stopping use.

A study released last year by the National Institutes of Health found that once patients stop weight-loss medications, the average rebound in weight gain is about two-thirds of total weight loss.

Medical experts say it’s common for a drug taken for a chronic medical condition, such as obesity, to stop working when a user stops taking it.

“Trying to stop the medicine like this can result in weight gain and increased appetite. No one should be surprised by this,” said Dr. Louis Aronne, director of the Comprehensive Center for Weight Management at Weill Cornell Medicine, “ GMA.” “This is exactly what we would expect to happen if you stopped a blood pressure medicine. Your blood pressure would go up.”

ABC News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton, a board-certified OB-GYN and board-certified in obesity medicine, echoed Aaron, saying it’s important to understand that obesity is a chronic condition.

“This is not candy. It’s not like treating a sore throat,” Ashton said. “So when people come off a medication they need to treat a chronic condition — such as overweight and obesity conditions — obviously, rebound weight gain is possible, if not likely.”

Sandy Huffaker for The Washington Post and Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images

This split image shows a Mounjaro injection pen on November 30, 2022 and the anti-diabetic drug Ozempic (semaglutide) on February 2023.

In the United States, obesity affects nearly 42 percent of the population and is associated with more than $170 billion in medical costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 90 percent of the more than 37 million Americans with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, a condition associated with obesity, according to the CDC.

Both Ozempic and Mounjaro are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, but some doctors prescribe them “off-label” for weight loss. Wegovy is specifically approved for weight loss for people with obesity.

Ozempic and Wegovy are made up of a compound called semaglutide, and Mounjaro contains a compound called tirzepatide.

The drugs work by slowing the movement of food through the stomach and curbing the appetite, thus causing weight loss.

MORE: People Describe Real-Life Side Effects of Popular Injectable Weight Loss Drugs

Shepherd said that for her weight loss, she took a compound of semaglutide, which is made at a compounding pharmacy using raw ingredients.

Getting semaglutide from a compounding pharmacy has become a more popular option for people whose insurance may not cover Wegovy’s Ozempic, which can cost over $1,000 a month without insurance coverage.

Experts say there are risks associated with getting semaglutide through that route, because it can be altered and it’s not always clear where the drugs come from.

Describing her experience maintaining her weight loss after stopping semaglutide, Shepherd said, “Absolutely people can go without it and do it, and I wouldn’t be afraid to stop.”

Teresa Shepherd, of Florida, said she lost 90 pounds while taking a semaglutide compound for about eight months.

Ashton said some people with obesity may need to continue taking a weight-loss drug “indefinitely.”

“We know the phenomenon is set up in the brain to get your weight back to its heaviest level, so it’s not a matter of willpower. It’s not a matter of eating less and moving more,” she said. “Behavior is always important, but you have to let pharmacology work.”

MORE: What to Know About the ‘Ozempic Face’ as Some Users Say Diabetes Drugs Used for Weight Loss Leave Them Thin

While there is no standard protocol to follow, Ashton said a physician can attempt to get a patient to their goal, healthy body weight and then follow the “basic principle of pharmacology” by reducing the patient to the lowest possible dose of the drug.

“The best dose is the lowest dose of the drug that works,” Ashton said. “If you need to reduce your dose and then expand the frequency, to maybe take it once a month, once every two weeks, the key is to keep yourself at that healthy weight as safely and effectively as we can.”

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