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GLP-1 drugs can help reduce your risk of early death from several health conditions. adamkaz/Getty Images
  • GLP-1 drugs have gained popularity over the last few years for their remarkable ability to help people lose weight.
  • Doctors are beginning to examine other benefits of this class of drugs, which may help you to live longer.
  • In addition to treating diabetes and obesity, research suggests these drugs can also help reduce the risk of a number of additional health issues, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

You may not be familiar with GLP-1 agonists, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard of the brand names attached to this class of drugs: names like Wegovy, Ozempic, Mounjaro, and Zepbound.

GLP-1 agonists are drugs that act like your natural GLP-1 hormone, which is a hormone that your body produces when you eat. One of its many functions is to give you the feeling of satiation — or fullness — which is a message to stop eating.

While they can help manage diabetes, these drugs have skyrocketed in popularity due to their ability to help treat obesity, and with good reason. Obesity is a leading risk factor for many diseases that can lead to early death. By treating obesity early, these risks can be reduced and thus increase lifespan.

However, more recent research suggests that these drugs may also help reduce the risk of a number of other health conditions.

While this research is still in its early days, findings suggest these drugs may help people live longer, healthier lives by reducing their risk of the following health conditions.

“Obesity increases one’s risk of all aspects of cardiovascular diseases including developing blockages in the arteries, having heart attacks and strokes, heart failure, arrhythmias, hypertension, and even increasing the risk of diabetes, which can further contribute to cardiovascular diseases,” said Dr. Janet Wei, a cardiologist with the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center in Los Angeles, CA, in an interview with Healthline.

“I think these drugs are a very big deal. We know how difficult it is to lose weight. Bariatric surgery has a very good track record, but of course, not everyone wants to get surgery,” Wei added.

In the realm of cardiovascular health, there’s enough evidence of GLP-1 agonists’ effectiveness that the FDA approved Wegovy earlier this year to help prevent cardiovascular death, although only for a select population.

“The current class of GLP-1 receptor agonists has been shown in clinical studies to be much more effective for weight loss than traditional lifestyle modifications such as diet and exercise,” Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, board certified interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Structural Heart Program at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, CA, told Healthline.

“There is no question that GLP-1 receptor agonists, as they become more popular, have the potential to decrease the tremendous burden of many chronic diseases on our society,” Chen said.

“Obesity is a well-established risk factor for several types of cancer, including but not limited to breast cancer (particularly postmenopausal), colorectal cancer, endometrial cancer, esophageal adenocarcinoma, kidney cancer, pancreatic cancer, liver cancer, and gallbladder cancer,” Dr. Wael Harb, board certified hematologist and medical oncologist at MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, told Healthline.

“Treating obesity can potentially reduce the risk of these cancers. Weight loss has been associated with a decreased risk of several obesity-related cancers. By reducing excess body fat, individuals can lower chronic inflammation and insulin resistance, normalize hormone levels, and improve overall metabolic health, all of which contribute to a lower cancer risk,” Harb explained.

“Given that GLP-1 drugs like Wegovy, Ozempic, and Mounjaro are effective in promoting weight loss and improving metabolic health, it is plausible to hypothesize that these medications could reduce the risk of obesity-related cancers,” said Harb.

Beyond treating obesity to indirectly reduce the risk of cancer, researchers have found some evidence that GLP-1 drugs can help improve the functionality of your body’s natural killer (NK) cells.

“NK cells play a crucial role in the body’s immune response to tumors by recognizing and destroying malignant cells. If GLP-1 drugs can indeed restore or enhance NK cell functioning, this could theoretically enhance the body’s ability to detect and eliminate cancer cells, thereby reducing cancer risk,” said Harb, noting that more comprehensive research is still needed.

Other research — some older and some newer — has been conducted to study whether GLP-1 drugs might provide benefits for people with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, respectively.

However, in an interview with Healthline, Dr. Clifford Segil, a neurologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, advised caution regarding these diseases.

“Neuroprotection remains an elusive statement, and multiple different types of medications have made claims of being neuroprotective. In the year 2024 there does not remain any pharmaceutical drug, vitamin, mineral or technique that has been proven to slow down neurodegeneration and prevent neurology diseases common in aging,” said Segil.

“I would be extremely concerned decreased food intake would worsen the overall health of Alzheimer’s Dementia patients who often have weight maintenance as an issue because they forget to eat,” Segil added.

But that doesn’t mean GLP-1 agonists don’t have any potential to help in the realm of neurology.

Other research has shown that these drugs might be useful for treating alcohol use disorder.

Excessive alcohol use causes 178,000 annual deaths in the United States each year, according to the CDC.

“The use of GLP-1 medication as a treatment for alcohol use is extremely promising, and in clinical practice, I have found it has helped an immense amount of patients. The early satiety with food decreased eating, and the early satiety to drinking has also been noted,” said Segil.

GLP-1 medications may help reduce the risk of several major causes of death, but it’s also important to remain appropriately cautious at this early stage.

“We need longer monitoring to ensure this is a safe medication for a more general population to take, but what we know so far certainly appears game-changing for a high risk cardiovascular group,” said Wei.

“I hope that future trials looking at GLP-1 agonists do a better job of recruiting a diverse population, and certainly more women,” Wei added.

“Other medications have had unexpected adverse effects, which post-marketing surveillance has noted. As the use of GLP-1/GIP medications surge in the US, post-marketing surveillance will hopefully identify unexpected adverse effects as it is designed to,” said Segil.