How does Mounjaro work for weight loss?
LAST UPDATED: Aug 30, 2023
5 MIN READ
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For decades, the most common advice for losing weight has been to “eat less and move more.” But if you’ve ever tried that approach, you know it’s a lot harder than it sounds. From fad diets to intense workout routines, the battle with the scale can feel like an uphill climb.
Thankfully, amidst this struggle, the medical community has finally recognized there’s more to the story. That’s where medical therapies like Mounjaro come in.
While obesity rates keep soaring, Mounjaro offers a glimmer of hope for weight loss. But how does it work? Keep reading to understand more about this weight loss medication.
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What is Mounjaro?
Mounjaro (tirzepatide) is FDA-approved to help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels, but it’s shown remarkable potential for weight loss. So much so that the FDA has fast-tracked approval of tirzepatide for the treatment of obesity, with approval expected some time in 2023.
We’ll get into how Mounjaro works in the next section, but it’s a medication that acts on two receptors in the brain: GLP-1 (glucagon-like receptor peptide-1) and GIP (glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide).
If you’re taking Mounjaro, you’ll inject it once a week subcutaneously (just under the skin on the stomach, thigh, or upper arm) with a tiny needle that is relatively painless for most people. It’s meant to be used long-term, and you’ll need to stay on it for the long haul if you want to keep seeing results.
Mounjaro Important Safety Information: Read more about serious warnings and safety info.
How does Mounjaro work for weight loss?
Even though Mounjaro isn’t yet approved as a weight loss drug, many healthcare providers prescribe it off-label to their patients for that purpose because it’s proven so effective (skip to the next section to learn just how effective it can be).
So, what's the secret behind Mounjaro's success at aiding with weight loss? It all comes down to how it acts on receptors in the body. Mounjaro binds to two key receptors: the GLP-1 receptor and the GIP receptor. It mimics the actions of two naturally-occuring hormones that bind those receptors that cause a cascade of effects when we eat.
Often called incretin hormones, GLP-1 and GIP are involved in regulating how much insulin the pancreas releases into the bloodstream after a meal, how quickly the stomach empties itself of food, and how your brain regulates your appetite, among other things. These hormonal effects naturally kick into gear when we eat, but without Mounjaro, these effects last only for a few minutes.
When you introduce Mounjaro into your system, it binds to GLP-1 and GIP receptors, but stays active for about a week (hence, those weekly shots). This prolonged activation means your body can better manage blood sugar levels and control your appetite, ultimately leading to weight loss.
How much weight can you lose on Mounjaro?
So, now you understand how and why Mounjaro can affect your weight, but how much can you expect to lose on this weight loss medication?
Clinical studies have demonstrated that Mounjaro is a standout weight loss solution. One study showed that more than half of the participants who took the highest dose of Mounjaro lost over 20% of their body weight. The only other weight loss intervention that offers such dramatic results is bariatric surgery.
Like any medication, results vary from person to person and are dose-dependent. Your healthcare provider will start you on a lower dose and likely slowly increase the amount of medication you get each week in order to minimize side effects, and this approach can change how quickly you lose weight.
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How long does it take for Mounjaro to work?
While it can take up to a year or more to see the full effects of Mounjaro, many people begin losing weight within a few weeks of starting the drug.
One large study showed an average of ~6% weight loss by week 8. That average percentage continued to increase throughout the 72-week study period. You can expect more dramatic results with a higher dose, but know that side effects are also dose-dependent; the dose your provider recommends will depend on how you’re tolerating the side effects.
Mounjaro side effects and considerations
Like any medical intervention, Mounjaro comes with its own set of considerations. While the side effects are generally manageable, they can include gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, diarrhea, bloating, and decreased appetite.
Your healthcare provider will start you on a low dose and gradually increase your dose every four weeks, as long as you’re tolerating the side effects. Everyone responds to these side effects differently. Some people may experience mild stomach discomfort right when they start the medication, with side effects decreasing over time. For a small percentage of people, Mounjaro’s side effects may be intolerable, or they may only be tolerable at lower doses.
It's essential to work with your healthcare provider to develop strategies to mitigate any discomfort, and to discuss your medical and family history in detail, since Mounjaro is not recommended for people with certain medical conditions.
Mounjaro vs. Ozempic vs. Wegovy: which is best for weight loss?
While all three medications are highly effective at encouraging weight loss, Mounjaro has emerged as a standout player, boasting a unique advantage. Like Mounjaro, Ozempic and Wegovy belong to the GLP-1 receptor agonist family, but Mounjaro brings something extra to the table: its GIP receptor activation.
This dynamic duo of receptor activation sets Mounjaro apart and makes it even more effective at encouraging weight loss, along with lifestyle changes.
Semaglutide, the active ingredient in both Ozempic and Wegovy, has been shown to result in up to 15% weight loss at the highest dose for some people. That makes Wegovy the most effective FDA-approved weight loss drug on the market (Ozempic, like Mounjaro, is currently only approved as a diabetes drug, though it’s often prescribed off-label for weight loss).
Still, as we’ve already seen, Mounjaro comes out ahead in studies, resulting in over 20% reduction in body weight for the majority of study participants.
What to expect with Mounjaro
If you and your healthcare provider have decided Mounjaro is right for you, you can expect to see some modest weight loss pretty quickly—within a month or so, with more results over time. After being on the drug for a year or more, you may see 15–20% weight loss from your starting weight, though results can vary from person to person and depend on what dosage you’re taking.
Side effects tend to be the worst at the start of any new medication regimen, as your body is getting used to the new drug. So, don’t fret if you have pretty uncomfortable side effects right when you start taking Mounjaro—you may just need to give it some more time.
Once you start taking Mounjaro, you’ll need to stay on it long-term if you want to keep seeing results. It may be difficult to imagine staying on a medication long-term, but it’s important to remember that it’s no different than any other drug you need to take for any other condition. Obesity is a chronic condition, and if you need medical help to manage it, it’s just like taking insulin every day if you have insulin-dependent diabetes.
Also, any successful weight loss intervention will only work long-term if you keep it up. If you’ve ever successfully lost weight through another method, like diet and exercise, you know that as soon as you stopped those efforts, you regained the weight. It’s the same with Mounjaro.
If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Eli Lilly. (2022). Lilly receives U.S. FDA Fast Track designation for tirzepatide for the treatment of adults with obesity, or overweight with weight-related comorbidities. Lilly News Release. Retrieved on Mar. 28, 2023 from https://investor.lilly.com/news-releases/news-release-details/lilly-receives-us-fda-fast-track-designation-tirzepatide
Holst, J. J. & Rosenkilde, M. M. (2020). GIP as a therapeutic target in diabetes and obesity: insight from incretin co-agonists. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 105, 8, 2710–2716. doi:10.1210/clinem/dgaa327. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/105/8/e2710/5847843
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Wilding, J. P. H., Batterham, R. L., Calanna, S., et al. (2021). Once-weekly semaglutide in adults with overweight or obesity. The New England Journal of Medicine, 384(11), 989–1002. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa2032183. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33567185/