Weight Loss Drugs, Women, and Natural Alternatives: A Functional Medicine Perspective

Riding the Wave: The New Craze for Weight Loss Drugs

We’ve all seen the surge in popularity of miracle weight loss drugs that have taken the country by storm in recent years. As women’s health specialists, we understand the excitement surrounding these medications and their potential benefits. However, it’s important to step back and consider the bigger picture, including the root causes of weight gain and how to improve metabolic health and lose weight without relying solely on drugs. Whether you’re currently using these medications, thinking about using them, or trying to enhance metabolic health and lose weight without prescription drugs, it’s wise to have an in-depth discussion about your options.

weight loss, women, GLP-1

GLP-1 Agonists: The Secret Sauce in Weight Loss Medications

The best-known weight loss medications, Ozempic and Wegovy, contain a synthetic peptide known as semaglutide. New kids on the block, like Monjourno and Zepbound, use a similar peptide called terzepeptide. These peptides work as GLP-1 agonists, which means they increase the levels of GLP-1 in your body. GLP-1 is a natural peptide produced in your G.I. tract with the help of beneficial gut bacteria. GLP-1-1 turns off your hunger cues and makes you feel satiated. It also plays a major role in blood sugar and insulin control.

Researchers suspect that individuals with diabetes and obesity may have low levels of GLP-1. If this is the case, you don’t have natural brakes on hunger cues and may experience “hunger noise” in the background all day long. By increasing GLP-1 levels, you can experience a significant reduction in appetite, and the feelings of hunger are finally suppressed. As a result, you naturally eat less and lose weight.

Additionally, since GLP-1 regulates blood sugar and insulin, metabolic indicators such as glucose and hemoglobin A1c improve. With these drugs, women are solving faulty hunger signals, shedding excess weight, and even reversing type 2 diabetes. It’s no wonder they are so popular!

Beyond Weight Loss: The Broader Benefits of GLP-1 Agonists

GLP-1 receptors are not only found in the gastrointestinal tract but also other parts of the body, including the brain. This is why GLP-1 agonist medications can be effective in managing compulsive behaviors such as alcohol or gambling addiction.

Research suggests that GLP-1 agonists have a positive impact on various chronic and inflammatory conditions, including liver disease, Alzheimer’s, and PCOS. As research progresses, we will likely discover more benefits and applications of these medications.

GLP-1 medications are considered relatively safe for long-term use. Some of us consider them a “smart” form of pharmaceutical intervention. Think of GLP-1 agonists as akin to hormone replacement therapy. Just as taking a thyroid hormone medication can help restore energy and metabolism in individuals with hypothyroidism, taking semaglutide can help those with low GLP-1 levels alleviate relentless hunger, manage weight, and control blood sugar. Like hormone replacement, supporting peptide levels can be an effective and safe way to help the body function normally.

Proceed with Caution: Potential Side Effects and Risks

The good news is that these drugs are considered safe for long-term use, according to what we know at this time. While there are extremely rare risks, such as pancreatic inflammation and gallstones, these are outweighed by the significant metabolic health benefits for many women. But like all pharmaceuticals, GLP-1 medications do come with potential side effects and risks that are crucial to consider:

  • GI Side Effects: Taking a synthetic peptide can overwhelm the GI tract and cause nausea, vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea. Therefore, it’s essential to start with a low dose and increase gradually as the body adjusts.
  • Loss of Muscle Mass: Rapid weight loss comes with the loss of lean muscle mass, which is concerning for women. Women naturally start to lose muscle mass in their 40s, which becomes more worrisome for elderly women as muscle loss accelerates after age 65. When women stop taking the medication without proper education and support, they often quickly regain the lost weight, which comes back as fat, not muscle.
  • Slower Metabolism: Since these medications decrease appetite, some women may eat too little. Prolonged caloric deficiency can slow down metabolic rate in the long term. As a result, when women stop taking the medication, they might find it challenging to return to normal eating due to their slower metabolism.
  • Nutrient Deficiencies: Because of food aversion and less intake, these medications can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and protein. Being deficient in protein while on these medications can accelerate the loss of muscle mass and make it difficult to rebuild muscle.

Medications as a Tool, Not a Cure: Understanding Their Role

In brief, these medications are not a complete solution to the diabetes and obesity crisis; they are just a tool. Taking an Ozempic prescription does not permanently heal your metabolism; it only works while you take it. The prescription does not include education and support on how to fuel your body for optimal metabolic health. It also does not change your gut microbiome favorably so that your body can produce its own GLP-1. Additionally, it does not provide the mental health support needed to address compulsive or emotional eating habits.

Yet, these medications can give you a jumpstart on altering your metabolic health and losing weight. In a short time, you may feel better, have more energy, and feel motivated to heal your metabolism.

Our Holistic Approach to Metabolic Health

Our goal is to help women identify what caused their broken metabolism in the first place and then use lifestyle and nutrition approaches to fix it. We fully support their decision to use medications, but our aim is to use the drugs temporarily while restoring metabolic wellness. This approach allows women to maintain the weight loss when they eventually stop taking the medication.

If you skip these root-cause steps and lifestyle changes, you risk regaining your lost weight. Many women are terrified to go off their medication and regain their weight. For some, taking the medication for life is the best option. It’s a personal decision that you can make with your doctor. For others willing and able to make fundamental lifestyle changes, these medications can be used short-term. There’s no evidence that these drugs aid in weight loss beyond 10 to 20% of your body weight, and many women achieve this in 3 to 18 months. The most effective way to continue losing weight is to restore your metabolic health.

Empowering Women with Functional Medicine

We love working with women who want to take advantage of the time they are on these medications to identify and heal the root causes of their broken metabolism. The biggest culprits are insulin resistance, a lack of understanding about eating for metabolic health, an imbalanced gut microbiome that doesn’t produce GLP-1, and stress-induced eating.

We utilize Functional medicine to pinpoint and address the body’s underlying physiological issues. Our health and nutrition coaches work closely with women to teach them the fundamentals of nourishing their bodies for metabolic health. As a result, they successfully reduce their reliance on medication and positively impact their own future health, as well as that of their children and other family members.

The Path to Metabolic Health and Weight Loss

We apply these six steps when we help women restore their metabolic health:

  1. Assess and track important metabolic health markers–know where you stand and watch your markers improve over time.
  2. Identify and treat the physiological root causes of metabolic decline, including insulin resistance, gut microbiome imbalances, and mitochondrial dysfunction.
  3. Study and control your blood sugar with tools like a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or a finger prick test, and discover which meals and snacks are the right metabolic match.
  4. Address and improve lifestyle factors such as appropriate exercise, quality sleep, and effective tools to manage stress and emotions.
  5. Learn and understand how to nourish your body to build lean muscle mass and manage weight effectively, with a focus on the right macronutrient types and amounts.
  6. Utilize and personalize a daily supplement protocol to replenish nutrient deficiencies and boost your metabolism.

With these in place, you can create a solid plan to wean off medication without experiencing rebound weight gain. If you choose not to take GLP-1 medications or don’t have access to them, have no fear. It’s absolutely possible to heal your metabolism without these drugs! We apply the five steps above and use supplements that can support your own internal GLP-1 production. Two supplements we use in our practice are GLP Probiotic and Calocurb Amarasate.

Your Health, Your Journey

Focusing on these steps can help you take control of your metabolic health and achieve sustainable weight loss. Whether you choose medication or a natural approach, the key is to address the root causes. This will allow you to optimize your metabolic health for the long term.

If you’re ready to take the next step in your health journey, we’re here to support you. Let’s work together to achieve your health and wellness goals.

Dr. Laura Paris is an IFM-certified functional medicine practitioner and doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine. She helps women rebalance hormones and cycles, reclaim metabolic health, reverse autoimmunity and inflammation, and restore gut health.

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