A weight-loss wonder-drug that blitzes body fat could also slash UK deaths from heart attacks and strokes.
The drug, called Rybelsus, is a daily pill which was approved for use in the UK last year as a major new treatment for obesity and type 2 diabetes.
It cuts calorie intake by mimicking the effects of naturally occurring hormones, called incretins, which are released when we feel full after a meal.
Studies show a third of those on high doses of the drug lose a whopping 20 per cent of their body weight.
A team of British scientists plans to investigate if the once-a-day pill will also slash heart attacks and strokes in millions of patients with type 2 diabetes
Weird science: Yes, you can be allergic to exercise
It’s an excuse used by many to avoid going to the gym, but for a select few it’s genuine – it’s possible to be allergic to exercise.
A condition called exercise-induced anaphylaxis (EIA) is a rare disorder in which an allergic reaction occurs after physical activity.
Symptoms may include hives, flushing, wheezing and nausea.
It’s possible to be allergic to exercise
In extreme cases, people can suffer heart failure.
Several hundred people have been diagnosed since EIA was first recognised in the 1980s.
Scientists believe cardio exercises such as jogging and aerobics are most likely to set it off, so EIA patients are told to avoid exercise.
Now a team of British scientists plans to investigate if the once-a-day pill will also slash heart attacks and strokes in millions of patients with type 2 diabetes.
They believe that, as well as triggering weight loss, the drug could reduce blood pressure, halt the build-up of harmful deposits in arteries around the heart and keep blood sugar levels from rising – making it a potentially powerful new weapon in Britain’s battle against heart disease.
According to the British Heart Foundation, cardiac-related deaths account for a quarter of all fatalities in the UK – an average of one every three minutes.
Rates have doubled in 15 years to around five million, causing an estimated 590 heart attacks and 770 strokes a week.
In recent years, a new class of drugs – called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists – have transformed diabetes treatment.
They work by triggering substantial weight loss in patients unable to fight the flab through healthy diet and exercise alone.
Most need to be injected once a week by patients themselves using a do-it-yourself pre-filled pen-like device.
Rybelsus, launched in the UK last September, is the first GLP-1 drug that comes as a daily pill.
Costing around £80 per patient a month, it’s a tablet form of one of the drugs, semaglutide, which is already given as an injection.
Researchers at Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Population Health are setting up the new trial because some studies suggest the drug may do much more than simply reduce body fat.
One animal study found GLP-1 drugs also reversed the build-up of harmful deposits, called plaques, in blood vessels around the heart.
Your amazing body
People can be left-eared as well as left-handed.
In the same way that humans have a dominant hand, we also have a preference for which ear we use.
This can be easily tested, as the majority of people will hold a telephone to the same ear each time – known as the dominant ear.
Much like with hands, scientists are still unsure why people have a dominant ear, but the split is far more even.
While only around ten per cent of people are left-handed, 40 per cent are left-eared.
Plaques can trigger heart attacks and strokes if they become inflamed, break loose and cause a blockage.
It’s thought GLP-1 agonists dampen down this inflammation. Other evidence suggests the drugs also significantly lower blood pressure – even in patients already taking medication – and bring down raised blood sugar levels, also a heart risk.
So far, the drug has only been studied in type 2 diabetes patients who already have severe heart disease, or have suffered heart attacks or strokes.
The Oxford trial aims to get patients on to the tablet before they get any cardiac complications, in a bid to save more lives.
The 55,000 volunteers, all over 55 and with type 2 diabetes, will be split into two groups – half taking Rybelsus every day for five years, the rest a placebo.
Both groups will continue as normal on other diabetes or heart medications.
‘We want to see if we can stop these people from having a first heart attack or stroke,’ says researcher Dr David Preiss. ‘The drug seems to have multiple effects. Weight loss is one of them.
‘But it also seems to reduce blood pressure, even in patients already on blood pressure medication.’
Fellow researcher Dr Marion Mafham said: ‘We want to test if the drug is beneficial in all-comers, rather than just targeting people already at very high risk.’
Jan Smith, from Kent, lost four stone – more than a fifth of her body weight – when she was prescribed the injectable form of semaglutide in 2020 as part of a trial.
She had struggled with her weight for years and the drug took away the hunger pangs that led her to overeat.
‘It felt effortless losing weight while I was on the trial,’ says Jan. ‘The injections altered my whole approach to food.’
Since coming off the medication when the trial ended last year, Jan’s weight has crept up again.
She says: ‘Now it feels like I’m in a constant battle with food again.’