The use of a drug called Ozempic is gaining popularity with celebrities, resulting in a huge media buzz. #Ozempic and #MyOzempicJourney are trending on TikTok and Instagram alike.
But what is Ozempic, and what does it do? Let’s break down the science behind this drug (and other medications like it) for treating type 2 diabetes and promoting weight loss.
What is Ozempic
Ozempic is part of a group of medications known as GLP-1 RAs (glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists). Other GLP-1 RAs you may have heard of are Trulicity and Victoza.
In 2012, Novo Nordisk, a Danish pharmaceutical company, created an injectable medication called semaglutide (also known as Ozempic). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Ozempic for the treatment of type 2 diabetes in 2017.
Since then, studies have shown that Ozempic and other GLP-1 RAs may improve cardiovascular disease outcomes in people with diabetes who are at high risk of heart disease. Research has also shown that Ozempic and other GLP-1 RAs promote weight loss in people with type 2 diabetes.
Novo Nordisk also developed a higher dose of Ozempic for weight loss, known as Wegovy. In 2021, the FDA officially approved Wegovy as a weight loss treatment for: 1) adults with a BMI greater than 30 and 2) adults with a BMI greater than 27 with a potentially weight-related health condition like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or type 2 diabetes. The FDA recommends using Wegovy in addition to diet and exercise for weight management.
Ozempic gained popularity after Hollywood stars started using it off-label to lose weight, though many did not meet the diagnostic criteria for a prescription. Demand grew, and drug companies struggled to keep up.
Is Ozempic comparable to insulin?
While insulin and Ozempic are both injections used to treat type 2 diabetes, they act differently in our bodies. Ozempic is a GLP-1 RA, a class of drugs that mimic a naturally occurring hormone in our body called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1).
Think of hormones like your body’s messaging system. GLP-1 is produced in the small intestine and tells the pancreas to make insulin. Insulin then tells cells in the body to take up glucose from the bloodstream so we can use it for fuel. GLP-1 also slows digestion in our stomach and sends our brain the signal that we are full.
Both insulin and GLP-1 RAs help decrease blood sugar, but Ozempic and other GLP-1 RA’s also decrease appetite and reduce the risk of low blood sugar.
Ozempic, Trulicity, and Victoza are all medications used to help people with type 2 diabetes reach their glucose goals. Ozempic may be given to individuals with pre-diabetes who have been unable to achieve their weight loss goals through diet and exercise alone. In addition, some healthcare providers have prescribed Ozempic off-label to those who want to lose weight but do not meet the FDA’s requirements.
As more and more people are prescribed Ozempic, it is essential to know the benefits and drawbacks of taking these drugs. There is limited research on the safety and efficacy of Ozempic and Wegovy for off-label use.
Should you use Ozempic for weight loss?
First and foremost, always work with a trusted doctor when considering any medication. Your healthcare team will help you determine if medications like Ozempic or Wegovy are appropriate for you based on your medical history. At Culina Health, your Registered Dietitian Nutritionist will work with your healthcare team to ensure you get the support you need to achieve sustainable weight loss while optimizing your physical and mental health.
Experts agree that medication alone is not enough for successful long-term weight loss. These drugs do not replace a balanced diet, but can be used in conjunction with both diet and exercise to increase overall health.
We also don’t know much about the long-term effects of GLP-1 RAs on body weight, metabolism, and overall health. A recent observational study published in the British Medical Journal examined long-term weight loss on GLP-1 RAs in people with type 2 diabetes. The results showed that 43% of the study participants had clinically significant weight loss (losing more than 5% of their body weight) after taking the medication for 2 years. However, in this study, about 32% of patients actually gained weight on the drug after 2 years.
A second study, a trial published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, examined what happens when people stop using semaglutide for weight loss. In this study, over 800 adults took a higher dose of semaglutide for 5 months. After 5 months, one group continued the medication for another year, and the other group stopped the medication. The group that stopped semaglutide regained an average of about 13 lbs – about half of the weight loss achieved on the medication.
Ultimately, more research is needed to understand how Ozempic and GLP-1 receptor agonists impact weight long-term. There’s still a lot to learn about what happens when people go off Ozempic and GLP-1 RAs and the impact on weight and metabolism.
Like most things in nutrition, we must consider all the factors that impact a person’s physical and mental health and weigh the pros and cons of using medications like Ozempic and Wegovy for weight loss.
Is Ozempic safe to use, and what are the side effects?
The most common side effects of Ozempic and other GLP-1 RAs are nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting, which occur in 10% – 50% of people who take the drug.
Typically, you will start with a low dose of Ozempic or Wegovy and slowly increase to higher doses to minimize side effects. Always speak with your doctor about side effects you experience while taking any medication, especially if they are severe and ongoing.
Less common side effects of Ozempic and GLP-1 receptor agonists include a potential risk for pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) and gallstones. Most GLP-1 receptor agonists are not recommended for people with a history of pancreatitis, type 1 diabetes, certain gastrointestinal diseases, thyroid tumors, or medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC).
It’s important to note that the long-term safety of Ozempic and other GLP-1 RAs has not been established.
The bottom line on Ozempic
Ozempic and other GLP-1 RAs are FDA approved for treating type 2 diabetes and weight loss in people with a higher BMI. The safety and efficacy of the off-label use of these drugs are not fully known. Always consult with your doctor to determine if weight loss medication is right for you.
Adding medications like Ozempic and Wegovy to your weight loss plan may be helpful, but they are not a replacement for making lifestyle changes that improve your overall health. For many, these medications also have some uncomfortable side effects.
If you choose to incorporate a GLP-1 RA for weight loss, we recommend working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to help manage side effects and build healthy habits with diet and exercise to improve long-term weight loss and prevent rebound weight gain.
While there are many approaches to losing weight, the best option is a sustainable one that also improves your health and your relationship with food. Integrating balanced nutrition, physical activity, stress reduction, and healthy sleep habits also contribute to long-term success.
Have more questions about weight loss and Ozempic? Work with a Culina Health Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to get personalized virtual nutrition care that is covered by insurance. Schedule a free intro call to get started!