December 9, 2023
  • A clinical-trial patient said Mounjaro helped her lose over 100 pounds and maintain healthy habits.
  • Also known as tirzepatide, it works similarly to meds like semaglutide by controlling appetite.
  • Some evidence suggests it could be even more effective by acting on multiple hunger hormones.

A game-changing medication called semaglutide, better known by the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy, has been trending for its impressive weight-loss results since 2021 — but one 47-year-old woman told Insider she lost over 100 pounds on a drug that could be even more effective.

Known as tirzepatide, or by the brand name Mounjaro, the medication has a similar action as semaglutide in helping to regulate appetite. A recent clinical trial suggested patients could lose up to 5% more weight.

Tara Rothenhoefer, a Florida resident, was a patient in one of those studies. She said tirzepatide helped her lose over 100 pounds after a lifelong struggle with yo-yo dieting.

Rothenhoefer went from 342 to 210 pounds during the 18-month trial, and later was able to lose even more after obtaining a prescription once the trial ended.

“Mounjaro completely changed my life,” she said. “The biggest benefit is reducing the food noise. I learned I don’t need to eat everything on my plate, and I’ve never had that feeling before.”

Mounjaro works similarly to Ozempic, but with an added effect

Tirzepatide is part of a class of medications — including semaglutide — that act on a hormone called GLP-1, which helps to suppress appetite. The family of drugs can help slow digestion and make patients feel more full after eating, helping people lose weight by eating less.

The difference between tirzepatide and semaglutide is that the former is known as a dual-agonist, which means it also acts on another insulin-related hormone called GIP. The additional effect could explain why some evidence suggests tirzepatide causes greater weight loss than semaglutide.

Both medications were originally designed to treat diabetes. However, semaglutide was approved for weight loss in 2021 under the brand name Wegovy — the version used to treat diabetes is called Ozempic, though that name has also become associated with weight loss because of social-media trends. Tirzepatide has yet to receive the FDA’s approval as a weight-loss treatment, which means it can’t yet be marketed for that purpose, although doctors can still prescribe it if they think it could help patients.

A woman in an orange shirt using an injection pen on the right side of her stomach.

Tirzepatide is injected once weekly, and acts on two different hormones that control appetite to help patients lose weight by eating less.

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Rothenhoefer said the medication cut out ‘food noise’ and helped jump-start healthy habits

When Rothenhoefer signed on to the clinical trial in 2020, she was told upfront that she had a 25% chance of getting the medication instead of a placebo. She initially felt no difference after the first injection. Then, about three days later, she realized eating had abruptly lost its appeal.

From there, Rothenhoefer lost about 80 pounds in the first six months.

“All of the sudden, I realized I wasn’t hungry, nor was I thinking about food,” she said. “I was floored. I steadily saw weight coming off, but I almost felt like I was cheating.”

But her success wasn’t without effort. She meticulously followed a nutritionist’s advice throughout the clinical trial, eating smaller portions, getting more protein, and moving more frequently. The difference was that she no longer felt deprived by her new routine or overwhelmingly tempted by foods like cake, cookies, or donuts, or persistent thoughts about eating, sometimes known as “food noise.”

While some people on tirzepatide and similar medications have spoken about side effects, including stomach cramps, nausea, or diarrhea, Rothenhoefer said she experienced only a headache and mild gastrointestinal issues that resolved after a week or two of starting the weekly injections.

Rothenhoefer said that before taking the medication, she had been struggling with her weight and dieting for decades. She started her first diet program, Weight Watchers, at age 13, and then spent years going on and off of it, losing weight only to regain it again. She had similar experiences with other weight-loss strategies, like following a low-carb, high-fat keto diet, and taking phentermine, an appetite-suppressing medication.

“Every time you gain back what you lost, and a little more,” she said.

Mounjaro’s cost could put it out of reach for many patients

Rothenhoefer was just shy of her goal weight of 200 pounds when the trial ended in October 2021. Without the medication, she said her weight slowly crept back up. She gained 18 pounds over the year until she was able to reaccess tirzepatide through an online prescriber, she said.

Now having lost 176 pounds, Rothenhoefer said she might soon be unable to afford tirzepatide. With a major manufacturer’s discount, she pays $25 a month, which is set to balloon to over $1,000 per month when the coupon expires in June.

However, she said she wasn’t interested in other medications like semaglutide: “When I already had the best, why would I go backward?”

Patients who stopped taking tirzepatide and similar medications would regain the weight they lost, obesity-medicine experts previously told Insider.

To help buy herself more time, Rothenhoefer said she had ordered the maximum amount she could — a four-week supply every three weeks — to stockpile the extra.

She hopes to eventually transition off of it and maintain her weight through healthy habits, knowing it may be an ongoing challenge.

“I don’t want to be on it forever. I’m not generally a medication person. I don’t even like to take a Tylenol,” she said. “I don’t ever see myself being the person I was three years ago, but I know it’s going to be an everyday struggle for the rest of my life.”

Rothenhoefer also hoped others would benefit from hearing her story — and from her part in the clinical trial, which has helped propel tirzepatide toward the next stage in eventual FDA approval for weight loss.

“It took people like me to put myself out there for it to be available to anyone else. If it didn’t take a leap of faith, I wouldn’t even know what I was missing,” she said.

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