Ozempic® Can Help You Slim Down, But There’s a Catch
How did Ozempic become so popular?
Ozempic is an injectable medicine designed to treat type 2 diabetes by regulating blood sugar. Since the discovery of its weight loss benefits, there has been a shortage of the drug due to high demand.
Ozempic gained popularity after Elon Musk claimed it helped him lose weight. Before his claim, it was relatively unknown. For most people, it was just another prescription drug marketed on television. However, since Musk tweeted that Wegovy, a variant of Ozempic, has allowed him to trim down, many other influencers and celebrities have also talked up Ozempic’s weight-loss properties.
Speculation built that many celebrities were using Ozempic® to get lean, and once the Ozempic trend made it to TikTok, it took off. The video-sharing platform is filled with influencers posting before and after photos to demonstrate their weight loss while taking this drug.
The FDA did not approve Ozempic for weight loss purposes; its approval relates entirely to its status as a treatment for individuals with type 2 diabetes.
What is Ozempic, and what does it do?
Ozempic is a brand name of a drug called Semaglutide.
It is a receptor agonist for Glucagon-like Peptide-1 (GLP-1). Receptor agonists attach to receptors on or inside a cell and mimic the action of the chemical (e.g., hormone) (a).
GLP-1 is produced in the small intestine and has receptors throughout the body. When functioning normally, it regulates insulin and glucagon – hormones that control our blood sugar levels. If someone has type 2 diabetes, blood sugar irregularities, or other conditions, GLP-1 becomes impaired (b). And this is when Ozempic comes in.
Ozempic mimics GLP-1 by controlling glucagon and insulin. It helps patients with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels (1).
Patients inject this medication into the stomach, thigh, or arm once a week (1).
Semaglutide (Ozempic) Helps Improve Beta Cell Function in People with Type 2 Diabetes
Research suggests Ozempic® helps beta cells in the pancreas function better (2). Pancreas beta cells release insulin to keep blood sugar within a healthy range (2). The beta cells of individuals with type 2 diabetes often become damaged because they gradually lose their ability to create insulin. They must work harder to create sufficient insulin to lower elevated blood sugar (2a).
Ozempic® also improves beta cells’ ability to produce insulin, boosting the pro-insulin-to-insulin ratio (3). Consequently, the body becomes better at regulating insulin-producing cells and storage, reducing the risk of pancreatic exhaustion.
Ozempic may also reduce or prevent the liver from creating and releasing sugar, thereby reducing the risk of excess blood sugar in the bloodstream. Semaglutide may improve fasting blood sugar and post-prandial blood sugar levels (4).
How does Ozempic (semaglutide) help patients lose weight?
Recently, Semaglutide has gained more recognition for its role in weight loss.
In 2017, the University of Leeds researchers found that this drug was beneficial in dealing with obesity. Their findings showed it slowed down gastric emptying, reduced food cravings, limited caloric absorption, and lowered hunger (5–7). All these are beneficial for diabetic patients because they lower blood sugar and increase insulin sensitivity. Ozempic may reduce cardiovascular and cerebrovascular risks for diabetic patients (8).
How much weight can you lose on Ozempic?
Most people can expect to lose anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of their body weight.
Possible Side Effects of Semaglutide-Based Medications
While this medicine might be helpful for weight loss, it is essential to remember that it is still a drug. Just like any other drug, Ozempic comes with side effects. Nausea, vomiting, dyspepsia, constipation, and diarrhea may frequently occur in the beginning, but, for most people wear off after two weeks (9). Some people reported nausea and diarrhea past the first two weeks of taking Ozempic (9a).
Ozempic may increase the risk of acute pancreatitis, gallbladder and kidney problems, and respiratory and urinary infections. In people with diabetes, it may damage blood vessels in the eye, increasing the risk of diabetic retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy can lead to vision loss and blindness.
People who lose weight too quickly while taking Semaglutide may end up with excessively loose skin, including a “gaunt” face.
In addition to the previously mentioned side effects, very low blood sugar could occur in a non-diabetic person. Chronically low blood sugar has its risks. So, it is best to consult with your doctor before taking Semaglutide.
The FDA suggests Ozempic is safe to take continuously for up to 68 weeks.
Semaglutide was not intended to be a weight loss drug. Scientists developed it to help people with type 2 diabetes by regulating their blood sugar. The drug’s growing popularity as a weight-loss tool means that it has, unfortunately, become inaccessible for diabetic patients who need it the most. This shortage has caused countries such as Australia to put new rules on how Semaglutide products are marketed and prescribed.
Experts warn that it isn’t a miracle drug, and taking it for any reason outside of managing type 2 diabetes could bring on unwanted and unnecessary health problems (11).
Also, the weight loss effects of this drug last only as long as you take the medication. Once you stop taking it, the weight comes back (11a).
Shanzay Haider, MD from PracticeUpdate.com wrote:
Findings from this study suggest that discontinuation of Semaglutide is associated with weight gain and may be associated with reversal of cardiovascular benefits seen while on this therapy.
Researchers from a published 2021 study wrote:
medwireNews: People with obesity continue to lose weight if they remain on semaglutide 2.4 mg after an initial 20 weeks of treatment, but gradually regain it if they switch to placebo, show the STEP 4 findings. Mar 23, 2021
The findings “are consistent with findings from other withdrawal trials of antiobesity medications [and] emphasize the chronicity of obesity and the need for treatments that can maintain and maximize weight loss,” the researchers write in JAMA.
As we’ve learned, Ozempic is an anti-diabetic medication with potential anti-obesity effects. However, it faces the same problems that other drugs developed for weight loss must contend with: the inability to keep the weight off long after the patient stops taking it.
Even with medications developed explicitly for weight loss, research shows that patients regain some, if not all, the weight they have lost once they stop taking the medication (12). It could explain why weight loss medications have come and gone over the past few decades, and a begs the question, what new medication is on the horizon that helps patients lose weight and keep it off?
These medications only address a small fraction of what hinders a person from losing weight. If the other issues are neglected, it’s only natural that the weight piles back on once the person stops taking it.
Ozempic is one medication of many that has temporarily helped people lose weight, even if it was not created for weight loss.
However, no matter what new pill helps a person with losing weight (usually temporarily), the top recommendations for long-term weight loss success are changing diet and lifestyle habits, getting physical activity, and addressing physiological issues.
Post’s photo: Photo by Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition on Unsplash
(a) National Cancer Institute; Agonist Definition; https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/agonist
(b) Human Molecular Genetics, Volume 18, Issue 13, 1 July 2009, Pages 2388–2399,
Decreased TCF7L2 protein levels in type 2 diabetes mellitus correlate with downregulation of GIP- and GLP-1 receptors and impaired beta-cell function
Luan Shu, Aleksey V. Matveyenko, Julie Kerr-Conte, Jae-Hyoung Cho, et al.
(1) Rosenstock, J. et al. Impact of a Weekly Glucagon-Like Peptide 1 Receptor Agonist, Albiglutide, on Glycemic Control and on Reducing Prandial Insulin Use in Type 2 Diabetes Inadequately Controlled on Multiple Insulin Therapy: A Randomized Trial. Diabetes Care 43, 2509–2518 (2020).
(2) Mahapatra, M. K., Karuppasamy, M. & Sahoo, B. M. Semaglutide, a glucagon like peptide-1 receptor agonist with cardiovascular benefits for management of type 2 diabetes. Rev Endocr Metab Disord 23, 521 (2022).
(2) Diabetologia. 2017; 60(8): 1390–1399. Effects of semaglutide on beta cell function and glycaemic control in participants with type 2 diabetes: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial; Christoph Kapitza, Kirsten Dahl,2 Jacob B. Jacobsen, et al.; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5491562/
(2) Semaglutide Improved Beta-Cell Function and Glycemic Control in Type 2 Diabetes | Endocrine Advisor
Brian Ellis | June 21, 2017; https://www.endocrinologyadvisor.com/home/topics/diabetes/type-2-diabetes/semaglutide-improved-beta-cell-function-and-glycemic-control-in-type-2-diabetes/
(2a) Type 2 diabetes: Beta cells explained | Medical News Today; Medically reviewed by Michelle L. Griffith, MD — By Beth Sissons on October 25, 2021
(3) Ahmann, A. J. et al. Efficacy and Safety of Once-Weekly Semaglutide Versus Exenatide ER in Subjects With Type 2 Diabetes (SUSTAIN 3): A 56-Week, Open-Label, Randomized Clinical Trial. Diabetes Care 41, 258–266 (2018).
(4) Knudsen, L. B. & Lau, J. The Discovery and Development of Liraglutide and Semaglutide. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne) 10, (2019).
(4) Offical Ozempic® Website; How Ozempic® works to lower blood sugar and A1C in adults with type 2 diabetes; https://www.ozempic.com/why-ozempic/how-ozempic-works.html
(4) Semaglutide – WikPedia; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semaglutide
(4) Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2022; 23(3): 521–539.; Manoj Kumar Mahapatra,corresponding author1 Muthukumar Karuppasamy,2
(5) Christou, G. A., Katsiki, N., Blundell, J., Fruhbeck, G. & Kiortsis, D. N. Semaglutide as a promising antiobesity drug. Obes Rev 20, 805–815 (2019).
(6) Fonseca, V. A. et al. Reductions in insulin resistance are mediated primarily via weight loss in subjects with type 2 diabetes on semaglutide. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 104, 4078–4086 (2019).
(7) Blundell, J. et al. Effects of once‐weekly semaglutide on appetite, energy intake, control of eating, food preference and body weight in subjects with obesity. Diabetes Obes Metab 19, 1242 (2017).
(8) Husain, M. et al. Semaglutide (SUSTAIN and PIONEER) reduces cardiovascular events in type 2 diabetes across varying cardiovascular risk. Diabetes Obes Metab 22, 442–451 (2020).
(9) Tan, X., Cao, X., Zhou, M., Zou, P. & Hu, J. Efficacy and safety of once-weekly semaglutide for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Expert Opin Investig Drugs 26, 1083–1089 (2017).
(9a)Weight can pile back on if you stop using semaglutide drugs Wegovy and Ozempic, doctor warns; Marianne Guenot Dec 6, 2022; https://www.insider.com/semaglutide-take-for-life-or-weight-comes-back-doctor-2022-12
(10) Sorli, C. et al. Efficacy and safety of once-weekly semaglutide monotherapy versus placebo in patients with type 2 diabetes (SUSTAIN 1): a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled, parallel-group, multinational, multicentre phase 3a trial. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol 5, 251–260 (2017).
(11) Ozempic warning: Doctors urge caution for those using diabetes drug for weight loss
Patients have asked doctors to prescribe the diabetes treatment ‘off label,’ to use for weight loss rather than its intended purpose
By Elizabeth Pritchett | Fox News; https://www.foxnews.com/health/ozempic-warning-doctors-urge-caution-those-using-diabetes-drug-weight-loss
(11a) Weight can pile back on if you stop using semaglutide drugs Wegovy and Ozempic, doctor warns
Marianne Guenot Dec 6, 2022; https://www.insider.com/semaglutide-take-for-life-or-weight-comes-back-doctor-2022-12
(12) CNS Drugs. 2015 Feb;29(2):163-9.; Weight regain after discontinuation of topiramate treatment in patients with migraine: a prospective observational study
Alberto Verrotti 1, Pasquale Parisi, Sergio Agostinelli, Giulia Loiacono, et al.; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25655110/
(12) IF I STOP WEIGHT LOSS MEDICATION, WILL THE WEIGHT COME BACK?; Posted by Dr. Sue Pedersen | Sep 10, 2022 | Dr. Sue
If I stop weight loss medication, will the weight come back?
(12) When to Stop Weight Loss Medication; Posted: Jun 29 in Weight Loss Medication by Dr. Lazarus |Clinical Nutrition Center
(12) Weight can pile back on if you stop using semaglutide drugs Wegovy and Ozempic, doctor warns; Marianne Guenot Dec 6, 2022 | Insider.com
OZEMPIC FOR WEIGHT LOSS: IS IT SAFE? 8 IMPORTANT FACTORS YOU NEED TO KNOW | Younique Medical; By YM Team; February 3, 2022; https://yuniquemedical.com/ozempic-for-weight-loss/
The Department of Health and Aged Care
About the Ozempic (semaglutide) shortage in 2022 and 2023
Key information from our series of medicine shortage alerts on Ozempic (semaglutide) is summarised here. As we get new information we will update this page.
November 22 2022; https://www.tga.gov.au/safety/shortages/information-about-specific-shortages/about-ozempic-semaglutide-shortage-2022-and-2023#:~:text=Prescription%2Donly%20medicines%20such%20as,for%20example%2C%20social%20media%20advertising.
Doctors Say You Might Want These Treatments After Ozempic Weight Loss | Real Self
Emily Orofino; Dec 21, 2022; https://www.realself.com/news/cosmetic-treatments-after-ozempic-weight-loss
Who can take Ozempic for weight loss? Ozempic is not approved for weight loss but it’s used off-label for weight loss in people with Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular risk
Stephanie Melby, PharmD, medical writer and reviewer for SingleCare; By Stephanie Melby, Pharm.D. | Mar. 6, 2022; https://www.singlecare.com/blog/ozempic-weight-loss/
Many turn to diabetes drug Ozempic to lose weight. Is it safe? | TODAY; By Richard Adams, Molly Palmer and A. Pawlowski; Oct. 18, 2022