A: Ozempic is a drug used to treat diabetes and has lately been touted as a helpful option to stimulate weight loss.
Ozempic (semaglutide) was approved in 2017 for the treatment of diabetes. Sometime in 2022, the drug’s manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, announced that the drug was in short supply in part due to “incredible” demand. On social media, celebrities everywhere were touting the drug’s weight-loss capabilities, holding it up as almost a “miracle” cure for overweight and obesity.
Ozempic works to lower blood sugar and A1C by helping the pancreas produce more insulin when blood sugar is high, preventing the liver from making and releasing too much sugar, and slowing the process of food leaving your stomach so you feel full for longer. Ozempic has a lot of potential to be an important mitigator of morbidity and mortality at the population level. For example, some clinical trial results suggest that Ozempic decreases the risk of cardiovascular death, nonfatal myocardial infarction, and nonfatal stroke by up to 26% for patients with Type 2 diabetes.
The FDA has approved Ozempic for use in Type 2 diabetes. The same drug in a different dose, given the brand name Wegovy, is approved for both Type 2 diabetes and obesity/overweight when there is also another “weight-related” condition present, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. People who don’t meet these criteria will have trouble getting insurance to cover the drug, and it is quite expensive, perhaps explaining how so many celebrities are using it for weight loss.
The medication is delivered via weekly injections. The drug does come with some side effects, whether used on-label or off-label, including nausea, fatigue, malaise, and changes in bowel activity, including severe constipation. More serious (but not as common) side effects include pancreatitis, gallbladder problems, and kidney problems For these and other reasons, patients taking this medication need to be monitored by a clinician and the trend of people getting these drugs online without clinical supervision is worrying.
Many clinicians have also pointed out that there’s just not a lot of data about how this drug affects people who fall outside of the usual use requirements. Patients with normal BMIs, for example, might experience more intense side effects and, as mentioned already, taking this or any medication outside of the supervision of a clinician can be problematic.
It might be tempting to turn to this supposed “miracle drug” for weight loss, but as with any medication, benefits and risks need to be weighed when making decisions, and these are best considered in collaboration with a clinician. If you have questions or would like to explore the possibility of taking Ozempic, you should always speak to your clinician first and go through official channels to get access to this and any other medication.
Stay safe and well!
Those Nerdy Girls
NYT article/explainer on Ozempic
JAMA rundown of Ozempic’s usage, efficacy, and risks
More on Ozempic’s popularity and shortage