A prescription drug for Type 2 diabetes has become a viral sensation on TikTok. Ozempic is an injectable medication that is used to manage blood sugar levels in diabetic adults and, as a side effect, promotes weight loss.
Celebrities and influencers alike have endorsed the drug as a fat-melting miracle, and the hashtag #ozempic has already amassed over 250 million views on TikTok. In October, Elon Musk revealed that his weight loss transformation is the result of fasting and Ozempic’s sister drug, Wegovy.
“These agents are incredibly effective,” Dr. Sultan Linjawi, an endocrine and diabetes specialist, told Newsweek. “Clinical trials of these drugs have demonstrated really phenomenal diabetes improvements and typically, depending on the drug, 3 to 6 kilograms in weight loss in the context of the clinical trial.”
When these medications are combined with a dedicated weight-loss program and a calorie-restricted diet, Linjawi said, patients could lose between 20 and 100 pounds.
The drugs work by activating blood sugar receptors in the body. “They are based on naturally occurring human chemicals called GLP-1 molecules,” Linjawi said. “These hormones effectively do three things: They’re released by us humans when we eat to increase insulin release, they reduce the amount of glucose that the liver produces, and they tell us we are full.”
People with obesity are often less sensitive to the hormones that make us feel full, but taking drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy can restore these feelings of fullness by slowing down the rate at which the stomach empties.
“I’ve got loads of patients who say to me, ‘For the first time, I understand what feeling full is.’ And those guys lose kilos and kilos of weight,” Linjawi said.
Today, these drugs are being used by nondiabetics to achieve the same results. “I don’t think that’s an unreasonable thing,” Linjawi said. “The world perceives diabetes as an illness but perceives obesity as a lifestyle…. Part of that, I suspect, is that if governments agree that obesity is a disease, they have to start funding obesity treatment.”
Wegovy has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for chronic weight management and has been tested in nondiabetics for side effects. “Safety-wise, there are no major concerns,” Linjawi said.
“The major side effect is nausea. It’s the same feeling that you would get if you went to a wedding and just ate and ate and ate and then someone offered you dessert and you thought: Why not?” he said. “And then they offered you another and you thought: I’m going to puke. That’s the sensation—just that you have overeaten.”
Constipation, diarrhea, hypoglycemia and gallbladder disease are also potential side effects, according to Healthline.
“There have been on and off stories about whether it can cause issues with the pancreas, but there has been no convincing data that it really does significantly,” Linjawi said. “It is difficult to say because people who have diabetes can get pancreatitis and people who are overweight can get pancreatitis, so it is hard to discern whether it is drug-related or disease-related.”
However, while these drugs may be safe to use for nondiabetics, the demand for them has now outstripped their supply, which has caused other problems. “Unfortunately, the drugs that have been designed for people with Type 2 diabetes are not available for diabetics and are instead being used by people who do not have the disease,” Linjawi said.
On its website, the FDA says Ozempic is in short supply, and for many patients switching to a new drug may not be totally straightforward. For example, alternative drugs may not be covered on the patient’s insurance plan.
“Historically, most of the drugs that we have for Type 2 diabetes cause weight gain, particularly insulin, so to have a drug that causes weight loss and improves sugars has been revolutionary,” Linjawi said.
The treatments are not cheap and, before insurance, cost between $900 and $1,350 a month. They also require weekly at-home injections, which can be off-putting for many users.
While Ozempic and Wegovy do appear to be safe and effective treatments for weight loss in nondiabetics, they should not be considered a magic bullet. Healthy lifestyle habits and calorie control are also essential for achieving and maintaining healthy weight-loss goals.
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