Can taking a semaglutide help keep my heart healthy?

Published: Thursday, December 7, 2023

If you’ve turned on the TV at any time in the past year, odds are that you’ve seen an ad for a semaglutide medication. But while we’ve been inundated with commercials about these medications, few people have a good understanding of how they work—or the fact that they can benefit the heart.

Semaglutide medications, including Ozempic, Wegovy, and Rybelsus, are relatively new. Two forms of semaglutide—Ozempic and Rybelsus—are used to lower blood glucose in those who have Type 2 diabetes, while Wegovy is used to promote weight loss in those who are obese.

What do semaglutide medications do?

Semaglutide medications are part of a class of drugs known as GLP-1 receptor agonists. GLP-1 is a hormone in the body that helps to maintain glucose levels.

This hormone typically breaks down quickly as part of the body’s normal processes. Semaglutides work by mimicking the body’s natural GLP-1, lowering blood glucose.

Along with improving the body’s ability to break down blood sugar, these medications also often cause weight loss because they suppress appetite and slow down the movement of food in the gut. Most forms of semaglutide are injected weekly, while Rybelsus is taken orally once a day.

How can semaglutide medications benefit the heart?

Taking a semaglutide helps protect the heart in multiple ways. The way the medication works reduces two known risk factors for heart health issues—elevated blood sugar and excess weight. Both factors put strain on the heart.

While we’ve long known that reducing those risk factors could help protect the heart, recent research highlights the connection between semaglutides and heart health.

A study from Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of Wegovy and Ozempic, found that taking the medication decreases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart attack-related death by as much as 20%. Research from another trial of Ozempic had similar findings, showing that the medication reduces risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart attack-related death by 26%. The SELECT trial found semaglutide cut the risk of cardiovascular disease by 20% among overweight and obese patients with heart disease.

In March 2024, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Wegovy for reduction of risk for major adverse cardiovascular events in adults with overweight or obesity and established CVD.

Who should take semaglutide?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to who should take semaglutide medications. The best decision for your health should be made in consultation with your medical providers.

If you have Type 2 diabetes, talk with your provider about whether a semaglutide could help manage your condition. Semaglutide is often recommended for those who have diabetes and are also at an elevated risk of heart disease or have been diagnosed with heart disease. These medications are typically used alongside other diabetes medications, such as metformin, to lower blood glucose effectively.

Those who are obese or have other cardiometabolic risk factors may also benefit. Talking with a cardiometabolic therapy expert can help determine whether semaglutide could benefit your heart health and your overall health.

In either case, working alongside a medical provider with specialized knowledge in how semaglutide medications work will allow you to make the most informed decisions for your health.

Last updated: 3/13/24

Learn more

Semaglutide medications can be an important part of a treatment plan for those with diabetes or metabolic health issues. Connect with our care team at the Center for Cardiovascular Prevention, Metabolism and Lipids at Georgia Heart Institute at 678-928-5942 to learn more.