Ozempic, a weekly injectable medication designed to assist adults in managing their blood sugar levels when dealing with type 2 diabetes, has garnered attention for its potential impact on weight, although it’s not officially classified as a weight loss drug. Research indicates that individuals using Ozempic may experience modest weight loss while on the medication. Notably, the active component in Ozempic, called semaglutide, is FDA-approved at higher doses under the name Wegovy for the treatment of obesity and related weight-related health issues.
Due to a shortage of Wegovy and the weight loss effects of Ozempic becoming popular on social media, individuals without type 2 diabetes have started using Ozempic off-label as a weight loss solution. In this article, we explore this emerging trend and provide insights from medical professionals regarding Ozempic’s effectiveness for weight management, its safety, and considerations to keep in mind before using Ozempic for weight loss.
What Is Ozempic?
Ozempic is an FDA-approved prescription medication for treating type 2 diabetes in adults. It effectively enhances blood sugar control and reduces hemoglobin A1C levels, a measure of long-term blood glucose, as supported by research cited on Ozempic’s website. Additionally, it helps adults with type 2 diabetes who also have heart disease lower their risk of cardiovascular events like stroke or heart attack.
Semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic, operates as a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist. It stimulates GLP-1 receptors throughout the body, augmenting the effects of the naturally occurring hormone GLP-1. This hormone has multiple functions in the body, such as promoting insulin release by the pancreas in response to food intake, which aids in blood sugar control. It also inhibits the release of glucagon, a hormone that raises blood glucose levels, thereby further aiding in blood sugar management.
Ozempic is administered through a self-administered weekly injection of semaglutide, available in dosages of 0.5 milligrams, 1 milligram, or 2 milligrams.
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Is Ozempic Insulin?
Ozempic is not insulin; instead, it encourages the pancreas to produce more insulin when blood sugar levels are high. Notably, Ozempic rarely leads to low blood sugar, in contrast to insulin, as highlighted by Lydia Alexander, M.D., a board-certified obesity medicine specialist based in California and the president-elect of the Obesity Medicine Association.
How Does Ozempic Work for Weight Loss?
Although Ozempic is not explicitly marketed as a weight loss medication, studies funded by Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of Ozempic, suggest that people taking semaglutide, the active ingredient, may experience weight loss. In fact, the FDA approved semaglutide for weight loss in 2021 under the name Wegovy. However, Wegovy provides a higher semaglutide dose than Ozempic, with Wegovy containing 2.4 milligrams of semaglutide compared to the 0.5 milligrams, 1 milligram, or 2 milligrams found in Ozempic.
As a GLP-1 receptor agonist, semaglutide amplifies the effects of the naturally occurring hormone GLP-1, which impacts weight through two essential mechanisms:
- Influencing the hunger centers in the brain, specifically in the hypothalamus, resulting in reduced hunger, appetite, and cravings.
- Slowing the rate of stomach emptying, extending the feeling of fullness and satisfaction after meals.
The cumulative effect of these actions is a decrease in hunger, prolonged fullness, and ultimately weight loss. In a substantial clinical trial sponsored by Novo Nordisk, 1,961 adults with excess weight or obesity but without diabetes received 2.4 milligrams of semaglutide or a placebo once a week for 68 weeks, along with lifestyle interventions. Those taking semaglutide lost 14.9% of their body weight, compared to 2.4% for those on the placebo.
It is crucial to note that the semaglutide dose used in this study exceeded the dose available in Ozempic. However, 2.4 milligrams is the dose of semaglutide in the FDA-approved weight loss medication Wegovy. As Dr. McGowan emphasizes, “Ozempic is FDA approved for the treatment of diabetes only. It is not a weight loss medication. Its sister medication, Wegovy, is specifically approved for the treatment of weight.”
While Ozempic and Wegovy are essentially the same medication offered in different doses, it is worth noting that Ozempic is typically covered by insurance, whereas Wegovy often is not. The high demand for Wegovy, combined with challenges in inventory and supply chains, has significantly impacted its availability, prompting many individuals to turn to off-label use of Ozempic for weight loss. Dr. McGowan points out that this practice is impeding access to Ozempic for those with diabetes.
It is important to recognize that while semaglutide may contribute to weight loss while taking the medication, most individuals are likely to regain a significant portion of the lost weight upon discontinuation. According to Rekha Kumar, M.D., head of Medical Affairs at the evidence-based weight care program Found, and a practicing endocrinologist in New York City, studies indicate that ceasing Ozempic use is likely to result in regaining most of the lost weight within several months. As Dr. McGowan notes, “GLP-1 medications [like Ozempic] are designed for long-term use. They are chronic medications for the treatment of chronic conditions, both diabetes and obesity.”
Is Ozempic Safe?
“Ozempic is a safe medication with numerous benefits,” asserts Fatima Cody Stanford, M.D., an obesity medicine physician-scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, an associate professor of Medicine and Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, and an advisory board member at Sweetch. “Approximately 80% of patients with type 2 diabetes also have concurrent obesity. So, these patients receive a dual benefit for the treatment of their diabetes and obesity.” Ozempic has also been shown to reduce major adverse coronary events, including heart attacks and strokes, while offering various other advantages.
Nevertheless, Ozempic is not suitable for everyone. According to the manufacturer, individuals with the following conditions should avoid using Ozempic:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Under 18 years of age
- Pregnant or breastfeeding
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Pancreatic or renal issues
- Family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC)
- Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia syndrome type 2 (MEN 2), an endocrine system condition.
As with any prescription medication, it is crucial to consult with your doctor or another qualified healthcare professional to determine whether Ozempic is safe for you and what the appropriate dosage should be.
Common Side Effects of Ozempic
“Overall, Ozempic is a very safe medication,” Dr. McGowan explains. “The most common side effects are gastrointestinal in nature, including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. While the majority of people taking Ozempic are likely to experience these symptoms at some point during their treatment, they usually subside over time.”
Dr. Alexander recommends that individuals eat slowly to help alleviate these and other gastrointestinal side effects
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