Obesity is a chronic health concern that affects roughly 42 percent of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. These are among the leading causes of preventable, premature death," the health authority warns. Increasingly, those looking to shed unwanted pounds are turning to Ozempic, a medication approved to treat diabetes.
However, some experts warn that getting a slimmer waistline this way could come at a serious cost—and may not be worth the risk. Read on to learn why some people describe Ozempic as a weight loss miracle, while others say its side effects are just too brutal to bear.
Ozempic does appear to help people lose weight.
Popularly used to lower blood sugar and increase insulin production in people with Type 2 diabetes, semaglutide is an injectable drug sold under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy. However, while both of these related drugs have been approved by the FDA for diabetes, only Wegovy is approved for weight-loss management. That's why the internet is buzzing about a controversial new health trend: doctors are prescribing Ozempic off-label as a weight-loss remedy.
Ozempic does appear to be surprisingly effective at helping patients shed pounds. In fact, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in Mar. 2021 found that over the course of five-and-a-half years, those taking a weekly 2.4 mg dose of semaglutide lost an average 14.9 percent of their body weight. Patients taking a placebo lost an average of 2.4 percent of their body weight.
Experts say these benefits occur for two key reasons. "It regulates your blood sugar, but it also targets that area in the brain that sends the signal of feeling full or not, so it's definitely helpful for weight loss," NBC News medical contributor Natalie Azar, MD, told Today.
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However, Ozempic comes with some potentially serious side effects.
Some patients have painted a harrowing picture of life on Ozempic, and have discontinued its use after experiencing serious side effects. In particular, they say that the drug can trigger a range of gastrointestinal symptoms, especially in the earliest months of taking the medication.
In a recent article published by The Cut, a 42-year-old podcaster Anna Toonk recounted her experience with the controversial drug. "I had no energy, constant nausea, and what I call power-puking," Toonk recalled, adding that her periods became intense and irregular. Psychotherapist Lauren Williams, another patient who spoke with the outlet about her experience with Ozempic, said she was hospitalized with gastritis after beginning her weekly injections.
Some doctors argue that for certain patients, the drug is worth the risks.
Doctors acknowledge that there are notable side effects associated with this particular medication.
"Common minor side effects of Ozempic include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation, which all tend to pass with time," says Kazim Dhanji, MD, a Family Medicine Physician and Aesthetic Doctor based in Birmingham, England. "More serious side effects are, thankfully, rare, but can include pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas and gallbladder problems. There is an increased risk of certain types of thyroid cancer, which is why we tend to avoid prescribing Ozempic to anyone with a family history of thyroid cancer," Dhanji notes.
However, Dhanji says that for certain patients, the benefits may still outweigh the risks. "I do recommend Ozempic and prescribe it regularly, especially to patients who have struggled with their weight loss journey or those who have an obesity related health condition, where losing weight could really improve their quality of life," Dhanji told Best Life. "The minor side effects are usually quite common and pass with time; I have not had any patients stop the medication due to these side effects."
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However, it's probably best to proceed with caution.
Before beginning any new health regimen, it's important to consider the risks and benefits with the help of your medical provider, Dhanji notes. And when it comes to Ozempic in particular, you may want to consider the risks with added scrutiny. After all, clinical studies have not yet determined whether Ozempic is safe for those who do not meet the FDA's guidelines for the drug.
It's also important that patients understand that medication is never considered a substitute for healthy lifestyle choices, such as committing to regular exercise and following a healthy diet. Speak with your doctor to learn the safest and most effective ways to sustainably meet and maintain your weight loss goals—with the fewest side effects possible.
Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.