One of the lesser-known evils of being overweight or obese is its ability to affect our mental health. People who carry excess weight are at increased risk of mental illness, which makes it even more difficult to lose weight. Thankfully, new data on weight loss drugs indicates that medications like Mounjaro and Ozempic may improve mental health. This article will discuss the link between mental health and weight and how these drugs can help.

How does obesity affect mental health?

Most of us are aware of the general health complications associated with obesity, including diabetes, heart problems, and musculoskeletal issues. But the truth of the matter is that being overweight or obese can affect our mental health negatively. Being overweight can increase one’s risk for mental illness, including conditions such as major depression, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, and agoraphobia. One study concluded that being overweight led to a 55 percent increased risk of having depression in one’s lifetime versus those who are not obese.

Several physical, social, and emotional factors contribute to the development of mental health problems in obese individuals. These include:

  • Societal stigma. There is a large stigma around having excess weight in today’s society. Society tends to have a lot of negative thoughts and feelings about being overweight, leading to common misconceptions. People may make assumptions that those who are overweight are lazy, lack discipline, or are unattractive. Unfortunately, these are sometimes the perceptions of someone’s friends, families, coworkers, or even healthcare providers, leading to discrimination and poor self-esteem.
  • Negative body image. Because of the stigma surrounding weight, it’s easy to internalize these negative thoughts and feelings. People may feel ashamed about their weight, leading to poor body image, low self-esteem, and negative self-talk.
  • Poor health. Obesity itself can cause disruptions to our bodies on a pathophysiologic level, thereby affecting our mental health. For example, a poor diet and increased body fat elevate inflammation throughout the body, adversely impacting one’s risk of depression and immune system.

Can mental health affect weight?

While weight can certainly affect our susceptibility to mental illness, the reverse is also true. Many people will use food to cope with issues like anxiety, depression, and stress. This can cause emotional eating and poor dietary choices, which can lead to increased weight. Serotonin deficiency, a hallmark of several mental health disorders, is linked to increased cravings for carbohydrates, leading to weight gain.

Additionally, if you are struggling with something like depression, you may find it difficult to exercise, engage in activities, or even leave the house. This can cause a more sedentary lifestyle, which certainly does not help with weight.

What are depression and anxiety?

Before diving into how weight loss drugs may improve mental health, let’s discuss exactly what depression and anxiety are.

Depression, also referred to as major depressive disorder or major depression, is a very common but serious form of mental illness. It is characterized by a loss of interest or depressed mood lasting consistently for at least two weeks, impacting one’s day-to-day functioning. It may lead to emotions such as sadness, hopelessness, irritability, and guilt and be accompanied by loss of interest, low energy, trouble sleeping, appetite changes, or suicidal thoughts.

Anxiety involves feelings of nervousness, fear, or dread. It can manifest into several different types of disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and phobias. GAD is characterized by excessive worry lasting almost every day for at least six months.

Though these mental health disorders can be debilitating, they are extremely common. Anxiety has been found to affect 31.9 percent of the population, and depression affects around 33.7 percent of the population. Thankfully, there are numerous treatments available targeted at these conditions and several lifestyle changes that can improve mental health.

In addition to these options, new data shows that weight loss drugs may even help to improve mental health. Thus, if you struggle with both weight and anxiety or depression, you may find weight loss medications having added benefits. Let’s review the data exploring this relationship.

How do weight loss drugs affect mental health?

By now most of us are familiar with the glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) medications that have hit the market in recent years. Indicated initially for diabetes treatment, these medications have taken center stage in the world of weight loss. Two popular GLP-1s include Ozempic (semaglutide) and Mounjaro (tirzepatide).

GLP-1s and depression

Knowing the close link between obesity and mental health, experts have postulated that perhaps these weight loss drugs could improve conditions like depression or anxiety. To test this theory, a study was conducted in over four million patients both with and without diabetes. Investigators assessed the incidence of depression diagnoses after starting a GLP-1 medication.

In patients with diabetes, all GLP-1 medications evaluated except liraglutide demonstrated a lower risk of depression versus those not on a GLP-1 drug. Tirzepatide (the active ingredient in Mounjaro and Zepbound) demonstrated the biggest reduction in depression risk, coming in at a whopping 65 percent. In those without diabetes, semaglutide-treated individuals had a statistically significant lower risk of a depression diagnosis versus those not on a GLP-1.

GLP-1s and anxiety

Results were very similar when also evaluating the link between GLP-1s and anxiety. Findings indicated that those on a GLP-1 were less likely to get an anxiety diagnosis after starting a GLP-1 versus those not on a GLP-1. Again, tirzepatide demonstrated the most dramatic decrease in diabetic patients with a 60 percent reduction. Again, semaglutide was associated with a lower risk of anxiety versus those not on a GLP-1 in nondiabetic patients.

Interpretation of these results

It is important to note that this was a retrospective study, meaning it was done in hindsight without the typical controls of randomized controlled trials. Though the results seem promising, they should be taken with a grain of salt.

Additionally, the lower risk of mental illness may not necessarily be a result of the medication itself. Several other factors could impact one’s susceptibility to anxiety or depression, including weight loss, exercise, diet, and sleep. For example, the medications may cause weight loss, which in turn improves self-esteem and lowers symptoms of depression and anxiety. In this scenario, it would be the weight loss caused by the medication that leads to improvements in mental health.

Can losing weight affect my mental health?

You don’t necessarily need to start a weight loss medication to lose weight and improve your mental health. As previously discussed, being overweight or obese increases your likelihood of suffering from conditions like anxiety and depression. Thus, losing some weight, with or without medication, can have profound effects on your body and brain. Some examples of this happens include:

  • Increased physical activity. A large part of someone’s weight loss journey involves exercise. Exercise is a proven way to elevate mood. Engaging in physical activity can increase the levels of mood-boosting chemicals in your brain, including serotonin and endorphins. It can also help your body to regulate sleep patterns, increase energy levels, lower muscle tension, and provide an outlet for negative thoughts and emotions. Thus, if you are working out as part of your weight loss routine, you will feel the benefits mentally.
  • Elevated self-esteem. A lot of people who are overweight or obese struggle with negative self-talk and body image. This can hinder one’s confidence and self-esteem, thus making one’s mental health worse. Losing weight can boost your confidence, making you feel more positive about your appearance. Additionally, achieving your weight loss goals requires both discipline and dedication. Reaching these milestones can bring with it a sense of accomplishment and pride in oneself.
  • Better sleep. Being overweight or obese negatively impacts your sleep quality and duration, which is why weight is linked to conditions such as sleep apnea. However, sleep is essential for both our physical and mental functioning. By losing weight, you can improve sleep and thus cognitive function and mood.
  • Lower stress. Having excess weight can induce chronic stress throughout the body, both psychologically and physically. By shedding the extra pounds, you can minimize the strain on your body and mind.
  • Balanced hormones. Extra weight can wreak havoc when it comes to your hormones, which in turn can manifest as irritability, emotional disturbances, and mood swings. By adopting a healthier lifestyle, you can balance your hormones and achieve more stable moods.

Conclusion

In summary, weight can affect your mental health, and your mental health can also affect your weight. The close link between mood and weight means that we should be prioritizing our mental health during our weight loss journeys. Thankfully, some of the newer GLP-1 medications like Mounjaro and Ozempic have been shown to have a positive impact on conditions such as anxiety and depression. This is likely because they lead to weight loss, which is associated with improved mental health.

Key Takeaways

  • Obesity increases the risk of mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety, due to societal stigma, negative self-perception, and physical health impacts.
  • Mental health issues can also lead to weight gain, as conditions like depression and anxiety may result in emotional eating, poor dietary choices, and reduced physical activity.
  • Weight loss drugs like Mounjaro and Ozempic, initially developed for diabetes, have shown promise in reducing the risk of depression and anxiety by influencing weight and possibly other factors.
  • Physical benefits of weight loss, such as increased exercise and improved sleep, can positively affect mental health by boosting mood and self-esteem.
  • The relationship between weight and mental health is complex, suggesting the importance of addressing both aspects in treatment strategies for better overall well-being.