Are GLP-1 Agonist Weight Loss Medications Safe?

Author: Darshan Patel, MD Weight loss Apr 20, 2024 4   min read

GLP-1 Medications such as Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro, and Zepbound are very potent and effective. They result in about 20% weight loss in patients. Achieving a 20% weight loss is a significant event that can affect body composition and metabolism in many ways. 

  1. Severe Caloric Restriction or Starvation: Extremely low-calorie diets can result in rapid weight loss. However, such diets are typically unsustainable and can be unsafe without medical supervision.
  2. Bariatric Surgery: Procedures like gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, or biliopancreatic diversion can result in significant long-term weight loss. These surgeries physically alter the digestive system to limit food intake and absorption.
  3. Medical Conditions: Certain conditions such as cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Crohn’s disease, and other chronic illnesses can lead to significant weight loss.
  4. Medications: Apart from GLP-1 medications, other drugs, like those used for ADHD or hyperthyroidism medication, can cause noticeable weight loss.

Patient safety is paramount when it comes to the treatment with GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) medications, such as semaglutide and tirzepatide. These medications are potent tools for managing type 2 diabetes and obesity, but they come with specific risks that necessitate comprehensive medical oversight. 

Patient safety is paramount when it comes to the treatment with GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) medications, such as semaglutide and tirzepatide. These medications are potent tools for managing type 2 diabetes and obesity, but they come with specific risks that necessitate comprehensive medical oversight.

1. Managing Side Effects

GLP-1 medications can cause a range of side effects, some of which are mild, like nausea and vomiting, but others can be more severe, such as pancreatitis, renal impairment, and severe gastrointestinal issues. A medical professional can monitor these side effects and adjust the treatment regimen accordingly by modifying the dose or switching to an alternative medication if necessary.

2. Assessment of Patient Suitability

Not all patients are suitable candidates for GLP-1 therapy. Comprehensive medical evaluation helps to determine if GLP-1 medications are appropriate based on the patient’s medical history, current health condition, and concomitant medications. Conditions like a history of medullary thyroid carcinoma or an individual family history of multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome type 2 could be contraindications for the use of GLP-1 medications.

3. Monitoring Drug Interactions

GLP-1 medications can interact with other drugs, potentially diminishing their efficacy or exacerbating side effects. For example, these medications slow gastric emptying, which can impact the absorption rates of other drugs. A healthcare provider can manage these interactions by adjusting drug timings or dosages.

4. Adjusting Treatment Over Time

The effectiveness of GLP-1 medications and the patient’s response to treatment need to be monitored over time. Continuous medical oversight allows for the adjustment of dosages and treatment strategies based on the patient’s progress and any changes in their condition or lifestyle.

5. Educating and Supporting Patients

Patients on GLP-1 therapy often require education about how to manage their treatment, including understanding how and when to administer their medication and how to recognize and handle potential side effects. Comprehensive medical oversight includes providing this necessary education and support to ensure that patients can manage their treatment safely and effectively.

6. Preventing Complications

Proper monitoring and timely intervention can prevent the complications associated with the conditions GLP-1 medications treat, such as cardiovascular events in patients with type 2 diabetes or significant health issues from uncontrolled obesity. A healthcare provider can implement a holistic approach that addresses all aspects of the patient’s health, enhancing the overall effectiveness of treatment.


In summary, GLP-1 medications require careful and continuous medical oversight to ensure they are used safely and effectively. This oversight helps in managing side effects, adjusting treatment regimens, ensuring patient suitability, and educating patients on proper medication use. Without such comprehensive oversight, the risks associated with GLP-1 medications could outweigh their benefits, leading to adverse outcomes for patients.

The rise of telehealth has expanded access to healthcare services, including the prescription and distribution of medications. However, the sale of compounded GLP-1 medications through telehealth platforms, particularly without adequate medical supervision, raises several significant concerns:

1. Patient Safety

Compounded medications are tailor-made for individual patients and typically require careful oversight by healthcare professionals. Without proper supervision, there’s a risk of improper dosing, potential interactions with other medications, and side effects. Since compounded drugs are not FDA-approved, their safety and efficacy are not guaranteed to the same standards as commercially available medications. This poses a higher risk when prescriptions are issued without thorough medical evaluations.

2. Quality and Consistency

Compounding pharmacies are regulated primarily by state boards rather than the FDA, leading to variability in standards and enforcement. Telehealth platforms that partner with compounding pharmacies might not always ensure that these pharmacies adhere to the highest standards for drug preparation, potentially leading to inconsistencies in drug quality and effectiveness.

3. Regulatory Oversight

The regulatory framework for telehealth services is complex, involving both federal and state regulations. When these services include the provision of compounded medications, it becomes even more complex. There are concerns about how well these practices are monitored and whether telehealth providers are fully compliant with both telehealth regulations and the specific regulations governing pharmaceutical compounding.

4. Lack of Personalized Care

Effective compounding should be based on a comprehensive patient assessment, including a detailed medical history and an understanding of the patient’s specific health needs and conditions. Telehealth platforms may sometimes streamline or oversimplify this process to manage a high volume of patients, potentially leading to less personalized care.

5. Potential for Misuse and Overprescription

The convenience and accessibility of obtaining medications via telehealth can also lead to misuse and overprescription. Patients might be able to obtain compounded medications more easily online than through traditional in-person consultations, which could encourage overuse or misuse, particularly with drugs that have high abuse potentials or significant side effects.

There are ethical concerns regarding the equity and quality of care provided through telehealth services, especially in the context of selling compounded medications without providing needed medical supervision. Additionally, the legal implications of prescribing and selling these medications across different state lines can be complex, given the variability in state laws regarding both telehealth and compounding pharmacies.

While telehealth offers many benefits, including increased access to care and convenience, it also necessitates rigorous oversight, particularly when compounded medications are involved. Telehealth platforms and providers must establish strict protocols and partnerships with reputable compounding pharmacies. Moreover, ensuring comprehensive patient evaluations and adhering to high standards of medical practice are essential to mitigate the risks associated with the remote provision of these specialized medications.

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