Life can be pretty busy and finding the time to exercise in amongst work, socializing, and sleep isn’t an easy task. So, for some people looking to lose weight, the prospect of a drug that could speed up and simplify the process might sound appealing. But does such a quick fix really exist?
What are weight loss drugs?
Weight loss drugs have hit the headlines multiple times in recent years; you may well have heard of Ozempic and Wegovy. Drugs such as these are essentially what it says on the tin – they’re drugs that help people to lose weight.
There are currently six weight loss medications approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the latest of which was approved in November 2023. These drugs have to be prescribed by medical professionals to treat obesity and/or related conditions, and provide an extra option when other treatment avenues have been exhausted.
Although some have touted such medications as a quick and easy fix for dropping a few pounds, that isn’t what they’re designed for. Zepbound, for example, has only been approved for use in those who have weight-related conditions such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, or Type 2 diabetes, alongside changes to diet and exercise. Generally, weight loss drugs have been found to be most effective when combined with these lifestyle changes.
Losing weight without moving more
But just because a drug that means you don’t also have to drag yourself to the gym doesn’t yet exist, it doesn’t mean that people aren’t trying. Researchers led by University of Florida pharmacy professor Thomas Burris have been developing a drug that aims to trigger weight loss without having to exercise.
That drug is SLU-PP-332, which enhances the activity of a group of proteins that are boosted during exercise, known as ERRs. When testing SLU-PP-332 in mice with obesity, the team found the mice lost 12 percent of their body weight and gained 10 times less fat than an untreated group – with their eating and physical activity habits remaining unchanged.
“This compound is basically telling skeletal muscle to make the same changes you see during endurance training,” explained Burris in a statement. “When you treat mice with the drug, you can see that their whole body metabolism turns to using fatty acids, which is very similar to what people use when they are fasting or exercising. And the animals start losing weight.”
This means it could also exploit a niche in the weight-loss drug market where others have failed: maintaining muscle. “We know maintaining muscle mass and strength is one of the most important drivers of healthy aging. With these drugs, I see my patients’ muscles melting away,” Dr Nicole Sirotin, the Chair of Preventive Medicine in the Medical Subspecialties Institute and lead of the Executive Health Program at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, told Forbes.
By mimicking the effects of exercise, Burris and the team hope the drug could help people keep that muscle on.
In trying to figure out if losing weight without exercising is possible, it’s easy to forget that there’s far more to physical activity than shedding a few pounds. Wegovy, for example, is prescribed to adults who have obesity or are overweight and have a weight-related condition such as high blood pressure. Getting active on a regular basis is a well-established treatment for reducing blood pressure, hence why it’s recommended alongside the drug.
Plus, even though a trip to the gym or going too hard on Just Dance might occasionally make you feel like you’re dying, it can also be enjoyable. The mood-boosting benefits aren’t just in the moment either – one study found that regular workouts can reduce anxiety symptoms even for chronic sufferers.
After all, there’s more to health than weight alone.
The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.