Quick Studies: A snapshot of the latest research on diet, exercise, and more

Weight Loss Breakthrough?

tape measure

Have scientists finally found a drug that helps people lose weight and keep it off?

Researchers randomly assigned 1,961 people—nearly all had obesity and none had diabetes—to inject themselves once a week with either 2.4 milligrams of semaglutide (Ozempic) or a placebo. All were told to eat 500 fewer calories a day and to exercise for 2½ hours a week.

Semaglutide is similar to GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1), a naturally occurring hormone that lowers blood sugar and curbs appetite. A lower dose (1 mg) of semaglutide—the drug is made by Novo Nordisk, which sponsored the weight loss trial—is used to treat type 2 diabetes.

After 16 months, the semaglutide takers had lost, on average, 34 pounds—more than what people typically lose with diets or weight loss drugs and without the usual regain after 6 months. In contrast, the placebo takers had lost 6 pounds. Blood pressure and blood sugar levels were also significantly lower in the semaglutide takers.

Among the downsides: Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting were reported by 25 to 44 percent of the drug takers versus 7 to 17 percent of the placebo takers. Most cases were not severe, though, and they subsided over time.

Semaglutide causes thyroid tumors in rodents, says the label warning, which notes that it’s unknown whether the drug causes tumors in humans.

What to do: These results are promising, but don’t take semaglutide to lose weight unless the FDA decides that the benefits outweigh the risks.

N. Engl. J. Med. 2021. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa2032183, doi:10.1056/NEJMe2101705.

Allergic Reactions to Covid Vaccines

covid shot
Studio Romantic/stock.adobe.com.

Worried that a Covid vaccine could cause anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction?

After 9.9 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and 7.6 million doses of the Moderna vaccine were administered, the CDC identified 66 cases of anaphylaxis. That’s about one case for every 212,000 doses of Pfizer and one for every 400,000 doses of Moderna.

Most people who had an anaphylactic reaction had a history of allergic reactions to drugs, foods, latex, etc.

Typical signs of anaphylaxis were hives, rash, swelling, a sense of one’s throat closing, or nausea. In 89 percent of cases, the reactions occurred within 30 minutes. Half of the people had to be hospitalized, but none died.

What to do: Got a history of allergic reactions? When you get your Covid shot, make sure there’s injectable epinephrine on hand.

J. Am. Med. Assoc. 2021. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.1967.

Vitamins vs. Covid

man with fever

In two studies, high doses of zinc, vitamin C, or vitamin D failed to curb Covid symptoms.

Researchers had planned to randomly assign 520 non-hospitalized Covid patients to take zinc gluconate (50 milligrams a day), vitamin C (8,000 mg), both, or neither for 10 days, then follow each patient for 18 more days.

After examining the data on 214 of the patients, it was clear that the supplement takers took no less time to reach a 50 percent drop in self-reported symptoms than those who took no supplements, so the study was cut short.

The second study involved 237 hospitalized Covid patients. Those who were randomly assigned to get one huge dose of vitamin D (200,000 IU) did not leave the hospital any sooner than those who got a placebo. Nor were the vitamin D takers less likely to die or need intensive care or a ventilator.

What to do: Don’t expect zinc or vitamins C or D to fight Covid.

JAMA Netw. Open 4: e210369, e210431, 2021.
JAMA 2021. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.26848.