Ozempic for Weight Loss: Is it Safe?

Semaglutide

“Oh, oh, Ozempic!” Does this tune sound familiar? The commercials for this popular drug have been running non-stop, but not without good reason. Originally designed as a medication for those with type 2 diabetes, Ozempic has been making headlines recently for its ability to help with weight loss, especially for those where other efforts have failed.

While this medication is getting a lot of attention, it comes with benefits and potential risks. This article will discuss what Ozempic is, how it works in the body to regulate glucose levels, why it’s gaining popularity as a weight-loss drug, and the possible side effects associated with its use.

Have you been considering Ozempic for weight loss? Read on to better understand if this drug is something you should discuss with your doctor.

What is Ozempic?

Ozempic is the brand name for semaglutide, a medication belonging to a class called GLP-1 receptor agonists. It is primarily used to treat type 2 diabetes by helping the body produce more insulin when blood sugar levels are high and reducing the amount of glucose released by the liver.

Additionally, Ozempic slows down the emptying of the stomach, helping to reduce post-meal blood sugar spikes. These combined effects help people with type 2 diabetes better manage their blood glucose.

Ozempic must be prescribed by a healthcare practitioner. It is self-administered by injection, once a week.

Ozempic for Weight Loss

For many, weight loss is extremely difficult, and we currently have no standard approach that works for everyone. However, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that patients treated with Ozempic experienced significant weight loss, averaging 15% of their body weight over 68 weeks. This data makes Ozempic an attractive option for individuals struggling with weight loss.

The FDA approved semaglutide for weight management in 2020 under the name Wegovy; however, the brand Ozempic is not FDA-approved for weight loss (only diabetes management).

Ozempic/Wegovy may help with weight loss in several ways:

  • Reduces appetite
  • Slows down the emptying of the stomach, which contributes to feeling full
  • Helps regulate the body’s response to insulin, which may impact fat storage and metabolism
  • May reduce cravings and emotional eating habits

Common Side Effects of Taking Ozempic

While Ozempic can offer both glucose-lowering and weight loss benefits, it is important to consider the potential side effects this drug may have.

Documented side effects of Ozempic include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Abdominal pain

 

Other Potential Side Effects

Pancreatitis

Apart from the more general symptoms, there is growing concern over serious, long-term outcomes that are still being studied. One of those is the risk of developing pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas.

The New England Journal of Medicine study mentioned previously found that individuals treated with Ozempic had a slightly higher incidence of pancreatitis compared to the placebo group.

Gastroparesis

Another concern is gastroparesis, which is the delay or stopping of food moving from the stomach and into the intestines. It is a serious medical condition that can severely affect digestion and increase the risk of malnutrition.

Many sufferers end up in the emergency room due to debilitating side effects.

In fact, a lawsuit was filed against Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly, the makers of Ozempic, claiming they failed to adequately warn patients about the possible risk of severe stomach problems like gastroparesis.

While rare, reports of this adverse reaction are growing.

Thyroid tumors

Another concern is the risk of thyroid tumors observed in animal studies. This is an area that is being watched closely, as no conclusive evidence as of yet has been linked to tumors in humans.

Muscle and Bone loss

Some doctors have been raising concerns about the potential impact of Ozempic and Wegovy on bone density, loss of muscle mass, and even sarcopenia.

Dr. Peter Attia, a Stanford/Johns Hopkins/NIH-trained physician, posted an online video raising awareness of this issue, saying that while his patients lose weight, they also lose muscle mass at an alarming rate.

Losing muscle mass can decrease metabolism, increase the risk of diabetes and obesity, and increase the risk of falls and fractures in older adults.

However, not all studies on semaglutide and muscle mass show the same result. The New England Journal of Medicine study found that while participants did lose muscle mass, the proportion of lean body mass to total body mass actually increased.

Additionally, Dr. Attia warns that rapid weight loss may have a negative effect on bone mineral density, although studies on this are conflicting. A recent review of studies on bone mineral density did not find this to be a concern.

It may be worth getting a DEXA scan to evaluate bone mineral density prior to and during the use of Ozempic, as well as incorporating strength training to combat these potential issues.

Who SHOULD Take Ozempic?

The evidence to date seems pretty clear that Ozempic can be a great tool for those with type 2 diabetes. It appears to have profound blood-sugar-lowering effects AND can help with obesity, which is common in those with diabetes.

If you have diabetes that has not responded well to other treatments, talking with your doctor about Ozempic may be a good strategy.

The jury is still out on the use of Ozempic/Wegovy purely for weight loss. Studies are showing some promising results, but the potential side effects may be concerning for some.

Conclusion

Ozempic is a valuable addition to the arsenal of medications available for managing type 2 diabetes. It appears to offer several benefits, including blood sugar control, weight loss, and may even reduce cravings and emotional eating.

For some, however, the side effects may outweigh the benefits. Ultimately, the decision to use Ozempic or Wegovy should be made with your healthcare provider. They can help assess your individual needs, other health concerns, and determine if this medication is a safe choice for you.

Remember, when considering Ozempic for weight loss, the long-term safety data is still not there. Use this medication with caution, and always under careful supervision of your doctor.

Danielle VenHuizen

Registered Dietitian, Certified LEAP Therapist