People should try to maintain muscle while taking semaglutide for weight loss, doctors have warned.
Strength training is a key component in this, as is the case with fat loss not involving medication.
Having more muscle mass has myriad health benefits.
The drug, which was originally created to help people manage type 2 diabetes, is sold under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy and meant to be used alongside lifestyle changes, including exercise. Along with similar drugs like liraglutide it was deemed a "game-changer" and became so popular it lead to shortages.
Just like losing weight without medication, taking steps to help the body maintain muscle is crucial to ensure a person loses fat, not just overall weight.
The aim when losing weight should be to change your body composition — the ratio of fat to muscle — not just become a smaller "skinny fat" version of yourself, personal trainer Luke Worthington previously told Insider.
Semaglutide is not a 'magic bullet'
"There've only been a few studies of muscle loss with semaglutide so far, but Japanese researchers reported that people lost half a kilo of muscle after three months on the drug," Dr. Rob Newton, professor of exercise medicine Edith Cowan University, Australia, told The Sydney Morning Herald. "It's a common problem with interventions to lose fat.
"This makes it imperative to also prescribe resistance training to prevent muscle loss. But my concern is that semaglutide is seen as a magic bullet by some people and isn't always combined with exercise."
Having more muscle mass not only creates a "toned" physique but is also linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and dementia, while having excess fat and low muscle mass has been linked to a range of health issues.
"There's little understanding that a healthy balance of muscle and fat is key to fending off chronic disease and frailty over the long haul," Newton said. "Most chronic disease isn't driven by fat mass but low levels of muscle mass and inactivity."
Priya Sumithran, a researcher at the University of Melbourne's Department of Medicine in Australia and head of obesity medicine at the healthcare provider Austin Health, echoed his points. She told The Sydney Morning Herald: "All medications registered to manage obesity are intended to be used in conjunction with diet and exercise, and prescribers know that."
Muscle helps maintain weight loss
What's more, having more muscle aids weight loss maintenance, Newton said.
"Muscle loss caused by repeated dieting without exercise is one reason why it can be hard to maintain long-term weight loss," he said.
Muscle is active tissue and one of the body's main users of energy, so our muscles use calories even when we're resting, he said.
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