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Over 55 million people worldwide have dementia. This mind-robbing condition has a huge impact on society and the economy, so scientists are working hard to find ways to treat or prevent it. One of the avenues being explored is the new weight-loss jab, Wegovy.

Although age is by far the greatest risk factor for dementia, obesity and type 2 diabetes are also major risk factors for developing the condition. This is where Wegovy and its sister drug, Ozempic, come into the picture. Wegovy and Ozempic, a drug to treat type 2 diabetes, both contain the same active substance called semaglutide.

Semaglutide mimics the action of a hormone, GLP-1, that is normally released from the gut after a meal. The hormone latches on to receptors in the pancreas that stimulate the release of insulin, which helps lower blood sugar levels.

However, these receptors are also in “reward centres” of the brain, including in areas controlling eating. Given that semaglutide is able to cross the blood-brain barrier (the protective layer around the brain), it is likely to directly modify brain activity to make people feel less hungry.

A Danish study that followed people with type 2 diabetes for five years found those on semaglutide or liraglutide (another diabetes drug) had a lower incidence of dementia. Type 2 diabetes is more strongly associated with vascular dementia and not Alzheimer’s disease (the most common form of dementia), so only certain forms of dementia might be reduced by semaglutide.

Read the full story on the Conversation website co-authored by Tim Viney and Barbara Sarkany from the Department of Pharmacology, University of Oxford.

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