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All about Ozempic, the diabetes med turned weight-loss 'wonder drug'

From its therapeutic indications to its side effects, here's everything you need to know about this supposed weight-loss wonder drug, the success of which reflects the persistence of certain beauty ideals

Published: Jul 14, 2023 04:04:21 PM IST
Updated: Jul 14, 2023 04:29:14 PM IST

All about Ozempic, the diabetes med turned weight-loss 'wonder drug'Faced with the misuse of Ozempic as an appetite suppressant, health authorities are reiterating that this is a drug for type 2 diabetes, and that using it for other purposes is without health risks. Image:JOEL SAGET / AFP©

From Hollywood to Europe to China, Ozempic has rapidly established itself as a miracle appetite suppressant for losing weight quickly and effortlessly. The problem is that the drug is being misused, since it is only intended for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. And this is not without risk to users' health, or to the diabetes patients who really need the drug. As such, health authorities are now keeping a very close eye on the situation. From its therapeutic indications to its side effects, here's everything you need to know about this supposed weight-loss wonder drug, the success of which reflects the persistence of certain beauty ideals.

The trend is inescapable, with testimonials pouring in from the media and social networks extolling the virtues of Ozempic, the brand name for semaglutide. This is much to the concern of health authorities, which are stepping up their warnings that the drug is not approved for weight loss, that it can cause side effects, and that its misuse can lead to supply problems for patients who really need it. Still, these warnings don't seem to be hampering the unexpected but sure-fire success of this drug, which is now perceived as a slimming cure like any other, and one with rapid and powerful effects.

Social media hype

In May 2022, Kim Kardashian stepped onto the MET Gala red carpet looking particularly slim in a dress that once belonged to Marilyn Monroe. It didn't take long for the wildest rumors to emerge about her sudden weight loss, including the use of Ozempic, a drug that all Hollywood was supposedly snapping up to shed unwanted pounds. However, the market for slimming products is far from lacking in options, as are the numerous cosmetic procedures that are the talk of social networks. And while the American star never confirmed having turned to this would-be appetite suppressant to slim down, others have confessed to having used it, such as Elon Musk, Dolores Catania and Amy Schumer. What followed was effectively a snowball effect. In just a few months, the drug has become the star of social media, with over a billion views on TikTok already, and no link to diabetes ever mentioned.

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"It has changed my life completely. It’s taken the fear out of everything that I do physically," Susanne Brown of Edmonton, Canada, told Global News. After being prescribed Ozempic off-label for weight loss, she claims to be able to enjoy activities she would never have dared to consider before. And she's far from alone. On social networks, users film themselves administering injections of what they consider to be a precious weight-loss remedy, mentioning how many pounds they've shed in the process. Some post Ozempic before-and-after pictures. In no time at all, the drug that quashes appetite and increases satiety has become a miracle weight-loss aid, despite the risks to which it exposes users. And that's not all, since a recent study, published in the journal eBioMedicine, suggests that the drug may also be effective in reducing alcohol consumption and the risk of relapse, confirming a series of testimonials reported by The New York Times. Nevertheless, Ozempic is only supposed to be intended for patients with type 2 diabetes.

Only available on prescription

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clarifies that there are currently three FDA-approved semaglutide products, all of which can only be obtained with a medical prescription. "Ozempic injection and Rybelsus tablets are approved to lower blood sugar levels in adults with type 2 diabetes," the FDA states. It goes on to explain that "Ozempic is also approved to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, or death in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus and known heart disease." Meanwhile, the "Wegovy injection is approved to help adults and children aged 12 years and older with obesity or some adults with excess weight (overweight), who also have weight-related medical problems, to lose weight and keep the weight off, in addition to diet and exercise."

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Since all the drugs contain the same active compound, some doctors prescribe Ozempic for off-label use—or to treat a condition other than its FDA-approved one, in this case, weight loss. This can lead to supply issues for patients who need the drug for its intended purpose. Moreover, while it is approved for weight-loss, Wegovy should theoretically only be prescribed to patients meeting specific criteria, and should be used in conjunction with diet and exercise interventions.

In the US, reports of certain adverse effects of the drug are beginning to pour in. The best known is the 'Ozempic burp,' which affects many people, including Elon Musk, and gives rise to untimely burping. Side effects including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, heartburn and dizziness are also reported, and some people even regret not being hungry.

Another point to bear in mind is that experts and health professionals warn of the dangers inherent in such rapid weight losses without any change in lifestyle. In other words, weight loss alone is not so good for overall health.

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Other options

On social media, a natural dietary supplement called berberine is already causing a stir on social networks. What some are already hailing as a new 'miracle solution' is said to help shed pounds thanks, once again, to an appetite-suppressant effect and its action on fat storage. In fact, it is already being dubbed a 'natural Ozempic.'

Meanwhile, Novo Nordisk, the pharmaceutical company that markets Ozempic, recently shared the results of a clinical trial concerning an oral version of semaglutide, the substance found in Ozempic and Wegovy. Although its launch date has not yet been determined, this pill could once again be misused, especially as Novo Nordisk claims a weight loss of at least 15% in obese or overweight adults.

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