Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of a new drug called Ozempic. This injection medication has taken the media by storm, with stories about all of Hollywood being on it. Many are talking about how effective Ozempic is as a means of weight loss. Others are on it for diabetes management. The latest buzz is about how there are shortages of this miracle medication due to the recent high demand. In this post, we’ll discuss everything Ozempic – what it is, how it works, benefits, downsides, and if it’s all it’s cracked up to be. Let’s dive in!
What Is Ozempic?
In order to understand the hype around Ozempic, let’s talk about what it is and how it works. First of all, Ozempic is a brand name for the drug called semaglutide. Other popular brand names include Wegovy and Rybelsus.
This drug was initially designed for diabetes management. In 2017, Ozempic was approved by the FDA to treat diabetes. Several years later in 2o21, the FDA approved Wegovy (which has a higher dose of the active ingredient, semaglutide) for treatment of obesity. Both Ozempic and Wegovy are once weekly injections to be administered in either the stomach, thigh, or arm.
How It Works
Semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic, was designed to mimic GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1). GLP-1 is a fullness hormone naturally produced in the body after we eat. It helps our bodies to regulate insulin and glucagon levels (and therefore blood sugar levels), which explains its role in diabetes management. GLP-1 also promotes a feeling of fullness by slowing gastric emptying. This is beneficial for diabetes management as well because it slows the release of glucose into your bloodstream. In terms of weight loss, this means you feel fuller for longer. GLP-1 even impacts a part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which signals to suppress appetite after a meal.
All of this goes to show that semaglutide can be incredibly effective in treating both diabetes and obesity.
Diabetes and Obesity
As most of us know, diabetes and obesity are two of the leading causes of death (whether directly or indirectly) in the US. These conditions are unfortunately easy to acquire and challenging to treat. So needless to say, when a drug comes out that treats both, the medical community and the public are going to get excited, understandably. And now with tons of users touting the product’s efficacy, more and more people are trying to get their hands on it to see the benefits themselves.
Off-Label Use/Easy Weight Loss
Not only is semaglutide becoming popular among those with diabetes and obesity, but it is now commonly being used for off-label uses as well. Many who are at a healthy weight are opting to take the drug to shed a few pounds. The appeal here is obvious, right? Lose weight without active dieting or restriction. However, it might not be that simple…
Length of Use
One major downfall of semaglutide is that the product requires lifelong use. So when you stop taking Ozempic, you stop seeing the weight loss and blood sugar control. Many have reported gaining the weight back after discontinuing semaglutide. A 2022 study showed that on average, “participants regained two-thirds of their prior weight loss, with similar changes in cardiometabolic variables” within one year of stopping their injections. So if you’re not prepared to be reliant on a medication for life, cross ozempic and wegovy off your list.
Another jarring downside of being on this medication is the cost. While those who are using the drug for diabetes and obesity may be covered by insurance, the same likely can’t be said for off-label users. And these retail prices are nothing to sneeze at, with a monthly supply of Ozempic starting around $950 and Wegovy at around $1300. Ouch.
Despite extremely high costs, Ozempic and Wegovy are now both on the FDA’s drug shortage list, making it difficult for the every day user to acquire them. This is due to the public’s newfound awareness of the drug and a sudden peak in demand. Producers of the product claim they are working to increase supply. But until then, some who have previously been on the medication may have to go without.
Known Side Effects
A few of the most commonly reported side effects from those on semaglutide include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In a clinical trial for ozempic, up to 20% reported nausea and up to 9% reported vomiting. (I don’t know about you, but these side effects alone are enough to keep me away.) Anecdotally, I’ve heard stories from people that decided to stop the drug altogether because their GI side effects were so bad.
Some other known side effects include stomach pain, fatigue, face changes, rebound weight gain, low blood sugar, pancreatitis, gallbladder disease, kidney damage, and thyroid tumors.
Unknown Side Effects
As with any newer drug, it’s important to consider the potential long-term side effects that remain unknown. This is historically what has lead to the demise of other weight loss drugs, and Ozempic may be no different. While scientists can speculate, it’s really impossible to know what the long-term implications are until we’ve been using the drug long enough for them to surface. Just something else to consider when weighing the pros and cons.
At this point you can probably guess where I stand on recommending Ozempic for weight loss. As a dietitian, I really prefer sustainable changes to diet and lifestyle as opposed to a quick fix with this many downsides. With my clients, we work to gradually adjust their habits to become more aligned with their goals. It’s simple and seamless, and there are no pesky side effects! In my professional opinion, this is the better option if you’re simply trying to lose a few pounds.
That said, anyone who has diabetes or obesity will tell you that living with these conditions is far from easy. Doctors may determine that the benefits of starting Ozempic outweigh the potential risks, on a patient-by-patient basis. Having a healthcare background, specifically in nutrition, I recognize that each person is different and requires an individualized plan of care. I’m not here to judge anyone who has determined (with their healthcare provider) that Ozempic or Wegovy is the best course of action for them.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic! Let me know what you think about Ozempic in the comments!