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Ozempic Alters Taste Perception, Which May Enhance Weight Loss

Scientists say semaglutide, the active ingredient in blockbuster weight loss drugs like Ozempic, can change taste sensitivity in people with obesity, which may help them lose weight.

Semaglutide, a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist found in weight loss/diabetes management drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy, may have many potential benefits. In addition to promoting weight loss, drugs like Ozempic may lower the risk of dementia and heart attack and may even help people overcome addiction.

Through several mechanisms, semaglutide promotes weight loss. For example, it suppresses appetite, slows how quickly food moves through the gastrointestinal system, and enhances the body's response to insulin.

However, a new study conducted by researchers from the University Medical Centre in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has revealed that this powerful weight loss medication may also impact taste perception, which could be another reason why the drug is so effective.

Semaglutide's impact on taste

The research, presented on June 1 at ENDO 2024, the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, examined whether semaglutide could change taste sensitivity and modify taste buds in women with obesity.

The randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial included 30 women with an average body mass index (BMI) of 36.4.

Over 16 weeks, the participants received either a 1.0 mg dose of semaglutide once per week or a placebo.

Then, the research team used test strips with concentrations of four basic tastes to assess taste sensitivity and performed tongue biopsies to analyze gene expressions in the participants. The women also underwent functional MRI brain scans while tasting a sweet solution before a meal.

The results showed that semaglutide improved taste sensitivity by impacting taste signaling pathways, taste bud gene expression, and brain activity in response to sweetness.

The scientists say the findings are important because people with obesity often perceive tastes and flavors less intensely, which may increase their desire to consume sweet and high-calorie foods.

"The general public will be interested to learn of the potential novel effects of this popular therapeutic class widely used for the treatment of diabetes and obesity," said the study's co-author, Mojca Jensterle Sever, Ph.D., of the University Medical Centre, in a news release. "Clinicians will likely correlate the findings with reports from their patients on changes in desire for certain foods, which go beyond broad changes in appetite and satiety that help them lose weight."

Still, the research team notes that taste perception varies between individuals, so the results might not reflect the experiences of others taking semaglutide.

They say future studies will hopefully clarify whether semaglutide-induced taste changes are one of the reasons people lose a significant amount of weight while taking the drug.

Though effective, GLP-1s also have side effects, like stomach paralysis, hair loss, surprise pregnancies, and "Ozempic face." Some of these are currently under investigation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


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