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We’ve All Heard of Them…What are GLP-1 Agonists?

Managing diabetes requires a multifaceted approach, most often involving medications to regulate blood sugar levels. One class of medications gaining attention is GLP-1 agonists. These drugs play a pivotal role in controlling blood sugar levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes. Understanding the function and significance of GLP-1 agonists is vital for effective diabetes management.

What are GLP-1’s?

GLP-1 agonists, short for glucagon-like peptide-1, are medications designed to mimic the action of a hormone produced in the intestines. GLP-1, is a naturally occurring hormone with several important functions, including regulating blood sugar levels. By mimicking GLP-1’s action, GLP-1 agonists help stimulate insulin secretion and inhibit glucagon release, thereby lowering blood sugar levels. This ability makes GLP-1’s an extremely effective tool for treating type 2 diabetes. According to the CDC, out of the approximate 38 million Americans with diabetes, 90-95% of them suffer from Type 2 diabetes. To learn more about type 2 diabetes, and how to avoid it, check out one of our earlier posts, Prediabetes.

Mechanism of Action

The primary mechanism of action of GLP-1 agonists lies in their ability to activate GLP-1 receptors in the body. This activation stimulates insulin secretion from pancreatic beta cells in response to elevated blood sugar levels. Essentially, blood sugar levels begin to rise after the ingestion of food. GLP-1’s kick in after ingestion by stimulating the receptors that release the insulin to lower sugar levels in the blood. Additionally, GLP-1 agonists suppress the release of glucagon, a hormone that raises blood sugar levels, further aiding in glucose control. Furthermore, GLP-1’s slow down gastric emptying, leading to increased feelings of fullness and reduced food intake. Those increased feelings of fullness contribute greatly to the effectiveness of GLP-1’s as weight loss aids.

GLP-1’s Benefits in Treating Type 2 Diabetes

GLP-1’s offer several benefits for individuals with type 2 diabetes. One of the key benefits is their ability to improve blood sugar control by enhancing insulin secretion and inhibiting glucagon release. This can lead to reductions in HbA1c levels, a measure of long-term blood sugar control. Convenience is another benefit of GLP-1’s in treating type 2 diabetes. Administered once daily or weekly, this increases the likelihood of patient adherence to the GLP-1 medication regiment. Additionally, GLP-1’s promote weight loss, making them particularly valuable for overweight or obese individuals with diabetes.

Depiction of items commonly associated with the treatment of type 2 diabetes, including GLP-1 Agonists.

The Different Types of GLP-1 Agonists

There are several types of GLP-1 agonists available on the market, each with its unique characteristics. The two main categories of GLP-1 agonists are short-acting and long-acting. Short-acting GLP-1 agonists are typically administered before meals to help control postprandial blood sugar levels. Examples include exenatide and lixisenatide which have to be administered more frequently because they achieve relatively shorter GLP-1 receptor activation. In contrast, long-acting GLP-1 agonists, such as liraglutide and dulaglutide, are administered once daily or weekly and provide sustained blood sugar control throughout the day. It is their ability to generate continuous GLP-1 receptor activation at their recommended dose that makes their infrequent dosage possible.

Medication Safety & Side Effects of GLP-1 Agonists

While generally well-tolerated, GLP-1’s may cause side effects in some individuals. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal discomfort, particularly during the initial weeks of treatment. These side effects can vary in intensity based on dietary choices. However, these side effects often diminish over time as the body adjusts to the medication or as the necessary dietary changes are made. It’s essential for individuals using GLP-1 agonists to be aware of potential side effects and consult their healthcare provider if they experience any concerning symptoms. If you’re considering taking GLP-1’s, you should consider researching all the potential side effects and their risks.

Looking Back

GLP-1 agonists are valuable medications in the management of type 2 diabetes. They work by mimicking the action of GLP-1, a hormone that plays a crucial role in regulating blood sugar levels. By enhancing insulin secretion, inhibiting glucagon release, and slowing gastric emptying, GLP-1 agonists help improve glycemic control and promote weight loss in individuals with diabetes. Understanding the mechanisms and benefits of GLP-1 agonists is essential for effective diabetes management and improving overall health.

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