In recent months, the diabetes drug Ozempic has become mainstream due to its weight loss benefits. However, it appears that there’s more to this drug than regulating your blood sugar and helping you shed some pounds. According to a recent study, Ozempic may also help reduce the risk of cancer.
Ozempic as an anti-cancer drug?
A group of researchers from Maynooth University recruited 20 people with obesity who had impaired natural killer (NK) cell function. NK cells are part of the immune system that helps to prevent cancer by recognizing and then destroying cancer cells. Unfortunately, amongst people with obesity, NK cells are less effective. According to research, excess body fat is associated with an approximately 17% increased risk of cancer-specific mortality.
For the study, Maynooth University researchers administered weekly doses of semaglutide to all participants. Semaglutide is the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy, an injectable weight-loss medication for adults with obesity or excess weight with weight-related conditions.
After six months, the researchers examined the participant’s cells. The findings, published in Obesity, found that participants experienced significant improvements in natural killer cell function, regardless of how much weight they lost.
“My team and I are very excited by these new findings in relation to the effects of the GLP-1 treatment on people with obesity, and it appears to result in real tangible benefits for those currently on the drug,” Dr. Andrew Hogan, principal investigator.
How does semaglutide influence cancer risk?
While the researchers aren’t clear on how semaglutide influences cancer risk, there are a few theories.
Speaking to Healthline, Dr. Semiya Aziz, a UK doctor and general practitioner who was not involved in the study, suggested that Semaglutide’s anti-inflammatory properties may be the reason for the findings,
“We already know that chronic inflammation can lead to the development and progression of cancer, therefore by suppressing inflammation, semaglutide may mitigate some of the factors that promote cancer development,” Dr. Aziz explains.
Dr. Aziz adds that semaglutide’s effect on blood sugar levels may also be a determining factor as high blood sugar levels can increase the risk of certain cancers, so “achieving better glycemic control may contribute to a decreased cancer risk.”
Should we prescribe Ozempic to reduce cancer?
It’s a little too soon to be calling Ozempic an anti-cancer drug.
People with obesity may benefit from these medications because they can help them get to a healthy weight. This can then decrease their risk for cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other issues.
However, the latest study is too small and brief to conclude that semaglutide can reduce one’s cancer risk. Also, while it’s great that the study reminds us of how obesity can influence cancer risk, weight is not the only driving factor for cancer risk.
If you want to manage your weight, as well as reduce your risk for cancer, Dr. Aziz advises that you adopt a balanced and calorie-controlled diet. This diet should focus on whole, plant-based nutrient-dense foods.
“It’s important to incorporate plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats into your meals,” she shares.
Additionally, Dr. Aziz points out how you should also take note of your behavior and mindset as you adopt these changes,
“Focus on making sustainable changes, addressing emotional eating, and developing a positive relationship with food,” she advises.
“A great way to start is by practicing mindful eating and tuning into your body’s hunger and satiety cues trigger dietary awareness.”
Is there an Ozempic shortage?
As mentioned, Ozempic and Wegovy are rising in popularity due to people taking them for weight-loss purposes. Unfortunately, the global misuse of these drugs has them now listed as “in short supply” on the FDA’s drug shortage website, and you can read more about this story here.
De Barra, C, Khalil, M, Mat, A, et al. Glucagon-like peptide-1 therapy in people with obesity restores natural killer cell metabolism and effector function. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2023; 1- 11. doi:10.1002/oby.23772
Pati, S., Irfan, W., Jameel, A., Ahmed, S., & Shahid, R. K. (2023). Obesity and Cancer: A Current Overview of Epidemiology, Pathogenesis, Outcomes, and Management. Cancers, 15(2), 485. https://doi.org/10.3390/cancers15020485