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A study has found semaglutide sold under brand names Ozempic and Wegovy may lower kidney disease risk. Iuliia Burmistrova/Getty Images
  • Popular GLP-1 drug semaglutide may help protect kidney function.
  • A new study looked at the drug, sold under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy, and its impact on kidney health.
  • Researchers found the medication can help protect kidney function in people who have excess weight or heart disease.

New research has found that semaglutide, a popular medication used to treat diabetes and obesity, may help protect kidney function in people who have excess weight and cardiovascular disease (CVD).

The findings, which were presented at the 61st ERA Congress Friday, suggest that receiving a weekly injection of semaglutide, a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist, may help prevent complications like chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease that often occur alongside obesity.

Health experts say the results are encouraging as they indicate that semaglutide may be an effective therapeutic option for treating comorbidities, and ultimately, improving people’s quality of life.

“This study adds to the body of literature supporting the beneficial effects of semaglutide in people with overweight and obesity without diabetes, which is so necessary as we continue to navigate the complex landscape of insurance coverage of these medications in people who do not have diabetes,” Shiara Ortiz-Pujols, MD, MPH, an obesity medicine physician at Staten Island University Hospital, told Healthline.

To better understand the effects of semaglutide on heart disease, the researchers evaluated the health data of a previous randomized trial that included 17,604 individuals with overweight or obesity and heart disease over the course of 3.5 years.

The researchers tracked who experienced a kidney event such as a significant decline in kidney functioning, starting chronic kidney replacement therapy, onset of persistent macroalbuminuria, or death.

The team found that, compared to the placebo, 22% fewer people experienced kidney-related events in the group of 8,803 people who received a once-weekly injection of semagutide (2.4 mg).

In addition, semaglutide appeared to help the kidneys filter blood.

Those who took the medication experienced lesser declines in their glomerular filtration rates, a marker that indicates how well the kidneys are filtering.

Those who took semaglutide also experienced significant decreases in urinary albumin-to-creatinine ratio, a test that measures albumin in urine, and macroalbuminuria, a condition where the body excretes more than 300 milligrams of protein through urine daily.

The benefits were observed even in those with normal kidney function at baseline.

“They found that, indeed, there was a modest beneficial effect on kidney function even in people without kidney disease, and a larger beneficial effect in slowing rate of kidney function loss in people with kidney disease,” explains Shuchi Anand, MD, MS, an associate professor of medicine (nephrology) at Stanford Medicine.

Ortiz-Pujols isn’t surprised to see semaglutide had a positive effect on kidney function.

“I suspected that these findings would be true based on what I have seen in my patients, and now there are studies to support it,” she said.

According to Anand, reducing the workload of the kidneys may help prolong people’s lifespan.

“By reducing weight, even modest amounts—people in the semaglutide arm lost about 9% of their body weight over two years in this study—we are reducing the filtering load on the kidneys. ” she said.

In addition, it’s possible that improving glucose metabolism benefits the kidneys, Anand added.

The drug may also lower inflammation in the body, added Ortiz-Pujols.

More research is needed to better understand semaglutide’s direct and indirect effects on kidney function.

Furthermore, there may, for example, be side effects that are important to consider before utilizing semaglutide for the added kidney benefit.

“Answers to these questions may help guide obesity treatment, but may also inform future areas of research as we learn more about the beneficial effects of GLP-1 receptor agonists such as semaglutide,” Ortiz-Pujols said.

People with excess weight face a higher risk of diabetes and hypertension, which are two factors known to worsen kidney function.

These results show that semaglutide may minimize these risk factors, thereby preventing kidney disease in people living with overweight or obesity.

“The results suggest that we may have tools to actually prevent kidney disease, rather than only slow loss of kidney function once a person develops kidney disease,” Anand said.

According to Anand, it’s not easy to convince people without kidney dysfunction or diabetes to take a life-long medication.

“What’s nice with this class of medicines is that kidney protection is an added bonus: There is already evidence that they benefit in terms of weight loss and cardiovascular health, so physicians would have more than one reason to consider them,” Anand said.

New research has found that semaglutide, a popular medication used to treat diabetes and obesity, may help protect kidney function in people, who have excess weight and cardiovascular disease. Health experts say the results indicate that semaglutide may be an effective therapeutic option for treating comorbidities, and ultimately, improving people’s quality of life.