Ozempic, a drug used to treat type two diabetes, has gained enormous popularity due to its off-label use for weight loss in those that do not have diabetes. On TikTok alone, the #ozempic has generated over 350 million views in counting.
The drug is FDA approved to reduce blood sugar levels in type two diabetics. Semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic, enhances the effects of the naturally occurring hormone Glucagon-Like-Peptide-1 (GLP-1) which stimulates the release of insulin from the pancreas to decrease blood sugar levels. A favorable side effect of the drug is weight loss, and this occurs because GLP-1 slows the rate food gets emptied by the stomach, keeping people full for longer periods of time; as well as acting on hunger centers in the brain that help reduce appetite and cravings for food.
According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, patients that took Wegovy (a FDA approved drug for weight loss that contains the same active ingredient as Ozempic but at a higher dose) for 68 weeks who also exercised and maintained a reduced calorie diet had an average change of body weight of 14.9% compared to a 2.4% change in patients given a placebo. If the drug is so effective at stimulating weight loss, then shouldn’t everyone that is obese or struggling with weight control use it?
There are many important considerations patients should be aware of when using Ozempic. Although generally a very safe medicine that can help type two diabetics control blood sugar levels, weight, and reduce risk for heart disease and stroke; it does have serious side effects and is not safe for everyone. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. However, more serious side effects that can occur include inflammation of the pancreas and gallbladder, changes in vision, allergic reactions like a skin rash, problems with the kidneys, as well as the development of a specific type of thyroid cancer. Specifically, patients younger than 18 years of age, pregnant individuals, those with a history of pancreatitis, type one diabetes, diabetic retinopathy, and a family history of some thyroid tumors should avoid taking Ozempic.
In addition, Ozempic has not been FDA approved for its use in weight loss and should not be used for short-term weight loss. The drug is meant to be used for long-term therapy of diabetes, since diabetes is a chronic, long-lasting disease. When discussing short-term use of Ozempic, Dr. McGowan, a gastroenterologist specializing in obesity medicine, states, “While this has received significant attention in the media, Ozempic and related GLP-1 medications are not designed to be used in this way, can lead to potential adverse events and ultimately the weight that is lost will be regained.” Obesity, like heart disease and high blood pressure, are chronic diseases and should be treated accordingly. A drug targeting a chronic disease is meant to be used for the long term, and GLP-1 agonists are no exception. Short-term use of Ozempic to shed pounds for a wedding or party often leads to weight regained after discontinuing the drug.
Finally, although all physicians have a right to prescribe drugs for off-label use if they deem it appropriate to help their patients, prescribing drugs this way will limit it for those that really need the drug for its intended use. In the case of Ozempic, the people that need this the most are type two diabetics who are trying to control their blood sugar levels and ultimately prolong their life. According to CDC data, more than 37 million Americans have diabetes, and 90-95% of those with diabetes have type two diabetes. More than 88% of American adults diagnosed with diabetes use some form of medication to treat and control their disease. Thus, the more Ozempic is used for short-term weight loss, the less available it will be for type two diabetics that may need it to control their blood sugar levels.
Before considering or taking Ozempic, always consult your doctor to ensure the benefits, risks, and long-term consequences of the drug are understood.
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