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A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Edinburgh found that semaglutide, the active ingredient in GLP-1 receptor agonist medications, may help protect and improve kidney function in people who are overweight or obese with established cardiovascular disease. The study, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, included more than 17,000 participants in the SELECT trial. After an average follow-up of 3.5 years, researchers discovered that participants receiving semaglutide injections had a 22% lower risk of experiencing adverse kidney-related events compared to those receiving a placebo.

The study examined the impact of semaglutide on a person’s estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) and urinary albumin-to-creatinine ratio (UACR) to measure kidney function. Participants who received semaglutide showed a significantly lower decline in eGFR and a decrease in UACR levels compared to those receiving a placebo. These findings suggest that semaglutide may have the potential to protect kidney function in individuals with pre-existing kidney impairment, without the need for weight loss.

Bariatric surgeon Mir Ali, MD, who was not involved in the study, expressed that the results were not surprising as weight loss has been shown to improve organ functions in individuals who are significantly overweight. Ali explained that excess weight puts stress on all organs, including the kidneys, leading to decreased efficiency and increased inflammation. By losing weight, the stress on the organs is reduced, resulting in improved kidney function.

Interventional cardiologist Cheng-Han Chen, MD, also not involved in the study, highlighted the impact of cardiovascular disease on kidney function, citing the importance of blood flow and the regulation of blood vessel dilation and constriction in both organs. Chen emphasized the need for continued research to find ways to protect kidney function in obese individuals with heart disease, as kidney disease is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States. Semaglutide’s potential to slow the progression of kidney disease in this high-risk population is promising and warrants further investigation.

Future research should explore whether semaglutide’s benefits on kidney function are independent of weight loss, as seen in studies on cardiovascular health. It would be interesting to determine if the improvement in kidney function or protection of the kidneys with semaglutide is directly related to weight loss or if it is a separate effect. Additionally, longer-term studies should assess if semaglutide can prevent poor kidney outcomes such as the need for dialysis or kidney transplant in individuals with obesity and established cardiovascular disease. The potential of semaglutide to improve kidney health is encouraging and suggests a promising therapeutic option for addressing cardiovascular and renal health in high-risk populations.

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