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What are incretin mimetic medications?

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For diabetes For weight lossOzempicList of medsAlternative medsSummary
Incretin mimetic medications are diabetes drugs that mimic the effects of hormones called incretins. They help regulate blood sugar and promote weight loss. Ozempic and Januvia are two examples.
Medically reviewed by Monica Kean, PharmD
Updated on November 27, 2023

Incretin mimetics are also known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists and GLP-1 analogs.

Healthcare professionals commonly prescribe them for diabetes management and to support weight loss in some people with obesity. 

Many types of incretin mimetics are available on the market, but not all are approved for the same uses.

How do incretin mimetics work for diabetes?

Woman with obesity researching incretin mimetic medications for weight loss and diabetes
FreshSplash/Getty Images

Incretin mimetic medications belong to a drug class called GLP-1 receptor agonists. These are compounds that mimic the effects of GLP-1, a hormone naturally produced in the gut. 

GLP-1 helps regulate blood sugar levels by:

  • stimulating the release of insulin, a hormone that lowers blood sugar
  • inhibiting the release of glucagon, a hormone that raises blood sugar
  • slowing down digestion, reducing the rate at which sugar enters the bloodstream after eating 

The combination of these effects makes incretin mimetics a valuable tool in managing blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes.

As an added benefit, these medications can also improve heart health factors such as blood pressure, heart function, and blood flow.

How do incretin mimetics work for weight loss?

While the primary function of incretin mimetic medications is to manage blood sugar levels, they also support weight loss. 

A 2021 review explains that incretin mimetics support weight loss by:

  • decreasing your appetite
  • reducing food cravings
  • extending feelings of fullness after eating
  • changing food preferences
  • lowering the rewarding feelings experienced when eating

These effects are partially linked to slowed emptying of the stomach, as well as changes in the brain that researchers are still learning about.

Combined, the effects lead to reduced food and calorie intake, which then leads to weight loss. 

Healthcare professionals typically prescribe incretin mimetics with strict guidelines like eating a low calorie nutrient-dense diet and more physical activity. 

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Is Ozempic an incretin mimetic?

Yes, Ozempic is an incretin mimetic medication. It contains semaglutide, a synthetic version of the natural incretin hormone GLP-1. 

The GLP-1 hormone acts on GLP-1 receptors found on various cells in your body. By stimulating these receptors, GLP-1 affects functions like blood sugar regulation, appetite, and heart health.

Synthetic incretin drugs mimic the action of natural GLP-1 by binding to the same receptors. That means they can affect the same bodily functions as GLP-1.

But synthetic incretin drugs have some differences from GLP-1. For instance, they’re more resistant to degradation by enzymes in your body, making their action longer lasting.

Incretin mimetic medications: A list

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several types of incretin mimetic medications for type 2 diabetes, including:

Of these, Rybelsus is the only medication that you take by mouth. Healthcare professionals administer the other incretin mimetic options as injections under the skin. 

Some incretin mimetic medications, like liraglutide and semaglutide brands, are FDA-approved for weight management in people with obesity. For example:

Some of the diabetes medications listed may also cause weight loss, though they’re not FDA-approved for this purpose. Still, some doctors may prescribe them for this off-label use. 

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Alternative drug classes 

Incretin mimetics aren’t the only option for managing blood sugar and weight in people with type 2 diabetes. 

The American Diabetes Association lists some other drug classes that might help with these health needs. For instance:

  • Biguanides: Oral medications that lower blood sugar by reducing glucose production in the liver and improving insulin sensitivity.
  • Sodium-glucose cotransporter 2 inhibitors: Oral drugs that lower blood sugar by increasing glucose excretion in the urine.
  • Dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors: Oral drugs that lower blood sugar by enhancing the action of incretins like GLP-1.
  • Alpha-glucosidase inhibitors: Oral drugs that block certain enzymes responsible for breaking down starches in your gut.

The exact effects of these medications on weight and blood sugar may depend on factors like your overall health and dosage.

It’s always best to work with a healthcare professional to find the safest and most effective medication for your healthcare needs. 

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Summary

Incretin mimetic medications are diabetes and weight loss drugs that mimic the effects of natural hormones called incretins. One type of incretin is called GLP-1, which is why incretin mimetic medications are also known as GLP-1 receptor agonists. 

Incretin mimetics help lower blood sugar levels in several ways, including stimulating insulin release, reducing glucose production, and slowing down digestion. 

They also support weight loss by making you less hungry and reducing calorie intake. 

If you’re interested in learning more about these medications and finding out whether they might be suitable for your healthcare needs, you can consult a doctor for recommendations. 

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