- The famed weight loss drug, semaglutide (brand names Ozempic and Wegovy), may boost the immune system and potentially fight cancer.
- Obesity impairs natural killer (NK) cells, which play a role in removing cancer cells.
- A study showed that semaglutide improved NK cell function and increased cytokine production, essential for anti-cancer activity.
- Semaglutide has side effects such as nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, constipation or diarrhea, and low blood sugar.
- Semaglutide is currently approved for diabetes and weight loss, but not as an immune booster or cancer preventive measure.
A Link Between Obesity, Immunity, And CancerObesity has been linked to a variety of human ailments, including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. More recently, obesity has been discovered to negatively impact the immune system. The immune system is involved in a variety of functions, from fighting off bacteria and viruses to eradicating cancer from within. An impaired immune system can therefore make someone susceptible to infections and cancers. At least thirteen different cancers have been linked to being overweight or obese. These include cancers of the breast, stomach, pancreas, kidney, and colon, among others. For example, an obese individual is 1.3 times more likely to develop this cancer than a person with a normal body weight. The exact reasons obesity increases cancer risk are a topic of active investigation.
Immune system alterations, however, are partially implicated. NK cells are a type of immune cell that are key players in the immune system's ability to fend off cancer. Studies in mice have shown that NK cell activity is suppressed within the bodies of obese and overweight animals. These mice also develop colon cancer at higher rates than those with normal body weight. Thus, defective NK cell function is likely to contribute to the development of cancer.
How Does Semaglutide Work?
Integral to blood sugar control, GLP-1 is a hormone released by the gut in response to food. It causes the pancreas to release insulin. A rising blood insulin level causes all the body tissues to start absorbing glucose (blood sugar) from the bloodstream, thereby lowering blood glucose levels. GLP-1 also prevents the release of glucagon, which is a hormone that raises blood sugar levels by stimulating liver cells to release glucose and helps people feel full for longer. These effects can also cause people to lose weight.
Modern studies on GLP-1 have shown that it has a role beyond glucose control. It modulates the immune system cells, including NK cells, in a way necessary for weight loss.
Semaglutide is a GLP-1 receptor agonist, meaning that it mimics the effects of GLP-1 in the body. Given as weekly subcutaneous injections It is normally prescribed to manage blood glucose levels in diabetic patients. It also leads to a significant amount of weight loss in these patients.
Semaglutide Communicates With The Immune System
In a new study, researchers studied the interaction between semaglutide and NK cell function in 20 patients with obesity. They were started on semaglutide therapy, given weekly, for 6 months. NK cells were isolated from these patients before commencing therapy and after 6 months of therapy completion. Their number and their function were measured to see if it was influenced by semaglutide.
Patients had no significant change in NK cell numbers after receiving semaglutide for 6 months. NK cell function, however, was significantly improved by the drug. The researchers detected a measured increase in cytokines after semaglutide therapy. Cytokines are small molecules released by NK cells that are essential to their function. This includes enhancing their anti-cancer activity. Additionally, 9 out of 20 patients had a significant change in their body weight during the study period.
It should be noted that this was a relatively small study of 20 patients. It nonetheless highlights an important benefit of semaglutide that should be explored in larger future studies.
Is It Weight Loss Or Semaglutide That Improves Immune Function?
Since the patients in the study lost weight, it is fair to question whether it was the weight loss or semaglutide that improved the NK cell function.
The researchers anticipated this confusion and tested whether the observed weight loss was associated with changes in NF-associated cytokine production. They found no correlation between the two, thereby demonstrating that the improved NK cell function was indeed due to the medication use. They further cemented this association by exposing extracted NK cells to GLP-1 directly, which caused them to significantly increase their cytokine production.
Semaglutide Carries Side Effects
Semaglutide is an invaluable addition to the repertoire of drugs used to fight diabetes and obesity and strengthen the immune system, as demonstrated by the study. However, like all drugs, it carries side effects that must be considered by anyone contemplating treatment with semaglutide.
Side effects include:
- Stomach Pain.
- Constipation or Diarrhea.
- Low blood sugar, which can cause dizziness, confusion, sweating, and headaches.
Most of these side effects can be managed with lifestyle modifications, such as eating more slowly and avoiding greasy and fried food.
Semaglutide can, occasionally, cause serious side effects, such as:
- Inflammation of the pancreas
- Gallbladder problems
- Kidney problems
- Allergic reactions
These side effects require prompt medical attention.
Should We Use Semaglutide To Boost Immunity & Prevent Cancer?
Semaglutide is, however, not approved for use as an immune booster and cancer preventative. Thus, it should not be prescribed for that purpose. Those taking it to control their diabetes or weight, however, can expect the additional benefit of improving their immunity and lowering their cancer risk.
The current semaglutide landscape may change in the future as more and more studies discover its benefits beyond controlling diabetes and aiding in weight loss.
Questions To Ask Your Doctor
- Am I a candidate for Ozempic or Wegovy?
- How will these medications help with my conditions, such as diabetes or increased weight?
- Will the medication simultaneously boost my immunity and lower my risk of cancer?
- What side effects can I experience while taking these medications?