Current studies suggest that people who are taking GLP-1 agonists may experience a positive effect on depression and anxiety symptoms.
GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) medications are a class of drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes by increasing insulin secretion and improving satiety which leads to weight loss. They have also been found to have potential benefits for other conditions, such as obesity and cardiovascular disease. There are also some studies that show that GLP-1 agonists like Mounjaro, Ozempic, and Wegovy may have a positive effect on treating depression and anxiety. But are they safe for these conditions?
Studies have shown that GLP-1 medications can have a positive effect on mood and anxiety symptoms. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials published in 2019 found that GLP-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1RAs) significantly reduced depression and anxiety symptoms in patients with type 2 diabetes compared to placebo (1). This suggests that GLP-1 medications could provide a potential benefit for patients with anxiety and depression
GLP-1 is a peptide hormone normally synthesized in the gut that plays a role in regulating glucose levels and insulin secretion after eating. It is also secreted by small populations of neurons in the brain. Though it works on multiple organs in the body, studies show that it has effects in the areas of the brain involved in memory and mood regulation, like the hippocampus and amygdala.
One study published in 2020 identifies a couple of different roles of GLP-1 in the brain that may benefit depression and anxiety (2). First, GLP-1 may reduce inflammation in the brain that is associated with depression. Second, it may also help improve the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain like serotonin. Third, GLP-1 may stimulate neurogenesis in the brain, which is the process of forming new neurons and neuronal connections. Lastly, GLP-1 may prevent cognitive decline, like memory loss, which is often seen in depression.
Altogether, these different mechanisms may lead to an overall improvement in mood symptoms from anxiety and depression. It also shows that the benefits on mood might not only be due to the weight loss effect of the medication.
There are some potential risks associated with the use of GLP-1 medications for depression and anxiety. One concern is that GLP-1 medications can cause gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, which could be particularly problematic for people with pre-existing digestive issues or eating disorders. In addition, there is some evidence that GLP-1 medications can increase the risk of pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer, although the evidence is currently limited and conflicting. Also, these are side effects and risks seen with anyone taking a GLP-1 agonist, and there is no data that shows people with depression and anxiety are at higher risk for side effects.
Despite these potential risks, the overall safety profile of GLP-1 medications appears to be favorable. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved several GLP-1 medications for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, and they have been found to be generally well-tolerated in clinical trials. Serious adverse events such as pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer are rare, and the risk appears to be no higher than with other diabetes medications.
Based on current data, there seems to be no significant interaction between antidepressants like SSRIs and GLP-1 agonists. The only potential effect is the amount of weight that is lost when using GLP-1 agonists, and this is dependent on which SSRI medication you are taking (3). However, as mentioned above, there exists a benefit to depression and anxiety symptoms when taking GLP-1 agonists that may complement the effects of the SSRI or other antidepressant that you are taking.
So, what does this mean for people with depression and anxiety who are considering GLP-1 medications? It's important to remember that GLP-1 medications are not currently approved for the treatment of depression and anxiety, and their use for these conditions is still considered experimental. If you are interested in trying GLP-1 medications for mood or anxiety symptoms, you should discuss this with your healthcare provider and make sure that you understand the potential risks and benefits.
Your healthcare provider may recommend other treatments for depression and anxiety, such as therapy or medications that have been specifically approved for these conditions. If you do decide to try GLP-1 medications, your healthcare provider will monitor you closely for side effects and adjust your treatment as needed.
In conclusion, GLP-1 medications show promise as a potential treatment for depression and anxiety, but more research is needed to fully understand their safety and effectiveness for these conditions. If you are considering GLP-1 medications for mood or anxiety symptoms, it's important to discuss this with your healthcare provider and make an informed decision based on your individual circumstances. If you would like to learn more about GLP-1 medications or want to see if you might be eligible for medication-assisted weight loss, check out Mochi Health, where board-certified obesity medicine physicians can offer expertise in this realm!
Dr. Constantine Joseph Pella, MD
Boston University Medical Center