What Is Ozempic and What Is Ozempic Used For?
What Is Ozempic, the Supposed Celeb-Favorite Weight-Loss Drug?
In the 1990s, diet pills — including fen-phen, a combination of the drugs fenfluramine and phentermine — became popular. Soon enough, that drug was pulled from the market, when reports that it caused dangerous heart valve issues surfaced, reports the journal Nature Medicine. For a while, it seemed like the tide had turned against risky lose-weight-fast medications. But more recently, Ozempic started making headlines as a prescription weight-loss drug (which it isn't, exactly — more on that later) that was favored by celebs. And unlike the 1990s crop of weight loss drugs, it's not a pill — it's an injection.
Ozempic (the brand name for semaglutide) is a medicine made for adults with type 2 diabetes. It's used to improve people's blood sugar levels, and according to the website, it lowers the risk of heart attack, stroke, or death in adults with type 2 diabetes and known heart disease. TikTok, however, has been touting the drug as the "skinny pen."
So how did Ozempic become known as a possible weight-loss drug? Likely due to anecdotal experience shared online. Videos with #ozempic have gained more than 978 million views on TikTok, many of which share positive experiences and claim quick results. Soon enough, there were rumors of various celebrities using Ozempic; commenters began speculating who was taking the drug and some celebs even came out to confirm that they had tried it or been offered it, further solidifying its rep. It even got a mention in Jimmy Kimmel's Oscars monologue. Now, ad campaigns declare it "a weekly shot to lose weight" — no nuance included.
There's some truth to the comments about the rapid weight-loss results. In a study where Ozempic was added to one or more diabetes pills, adults with type 2 diabetes weighing 197 pounds lost 12 pounds in one year on a 1 mg weekly dosage.
But Ozempic is not a weight-loss drug, nor is it even permitted to be used for weight loss in patients who don't have type 2 diabetes in the US, the website states. The drug comes with side effects (one is being called "Ozempic face") and a recent study proves that the rebound effects — meaning, what happens when you go off Ozempic — may not be so positive. According to a study in the Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, participants regained two-thirds of their prior weight loss when they stopped treatment completely, concluding that "ongoing treatment [of Ozempic] is required to maintain improvements in weight and health."
Plus, due to the heightened demand in addition to global supply issues, it's led to a shortage of Ozempic for those who actually need it to manage their diabetes, per NBC News. It's important to understand what exactly Ozempic is, who it can be prescribed to, and how it may (or may not) aid in weight loss.
What Is Ozempic, and How Does Ozempic Work?
In simple terms, Ozempic is a medicine that increases the amount of insulin released into the body, says Bayo Curry-Winchell, MD, urgent-care medical director and physician at Carbon Health and Saint Mary's Hospital. Insulin, which is a hormone, is vital, and it "allows every meal, snack, or drink you consume to be converted to a form of energy your body needs daily to function," she adds. So because people with type 2 diabetes often have low or nonexistent levels of insulin in their bloodstream, Ozempic will increase the amount of insulin, allowing the body to better process or break down food.
"This is an important step in controlling the amount of sugar in the blood (glucose), since, without [insulin], a person is left with excess blood sugar (hyperglycemia) that has nowhere to go, which ultimately would cause damage or harming to vital organs such as your brain, eyes, and kidneys," Dr. Curry-Winchell says.
As for how it aids in weight loss, Daniel Boyer, MD, says, "Ozempic prevents and reduces calorie overdose, a major contributing factor to weight gain, by suppressing appetite and reducing the preference for foods high in fats." Dr. Curry-Winchell further explains that Ozempic slows down the process of digesting a meal and targets an area in your brain that controls whether you decide to have more food or not.
While these effects can be seen as benefits for people with type 2 diabetes (since weight loss may help blood glucose levels decrease to the nondiabetic range, which could minimize or prevent future complications, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases), that doesn't mean Ozempic can or should be used by anyone in order to lose weight. After all, weight alone is not a reliable indicator of health. Plenty of people who are considered overweight by current measures are metabolically healthy, and plenty of people who aren't considered overweight are not, as demonstrated by research in JAMA Internal Medicine. Using prescription medication for weight loss when it's not specifically directed by a doctor and it hasn't been approved for such a use can be at best unnecessary and at worst dangerous.
Who Qualifies For an Ozempic Prescription?
Despite what you may see in the TikTok comments, Ozempic has only been approved by the FDA for managing symptoms of type 2 diabetes in adults — not for any other conditions, Dr. Boyer says. In fact, while the drug website mentions that the medication can help people "lose some weight," it clarifies that "Ozempic is not for weight loss" and is instead "proven to lower blood sugar and A1C." There isn't sufficient research on whether Ozempic is safe or effective when used strictly for weight loss. But experts agree, it's something that should only be taken when prescribed by a doctor who is familiar with your individualized health history and needs, especially considering the not-so-harmless potential side effects.
What Are Ozempic Side Effects?
Taking Ozempic has been linked to some severe health conditions. This includes things like acute pancreatitis and, if injecting Ozempic, an increased risk of developing tumors in the thyroid gland, Dr. Boyer says. Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and increased risks of developing hypoglycemia could also be side effects, Dr. Curry-Winchell says.
Plus, according to the study published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, researchers also found that a side effect of transitioning off Ozempic can result in weight gain. In the study, patients regained "two-thirds of their prior weight loss" one year after withdrawal. This further proves that Ozempic is not something to take intermittently — in order to see any results, "ongoing treatment is required to maintain improvements in weight and health," as concluded by the researchers.
TikToker Remi Bader recently opened up about her experience gaining "double the weight back" once she stopped treatment. On the "Not Skinny but Not Fat" podcast on Jan. 10, the model said her doctor recommended the drug shortly after it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2020 to help with prediabetic insulin issues and weight gain. She took it despite having "a lot of mixed feelings." And when she decided to stop taking the drug, her binge-eating disorder almost immediately returned.
"I'm, like, almost annoyed that it's this trendy thing now when I went on it for actual issues," Bader vented to podcast host Amanda Hirsch. "I was like, 'I bet the second I go off, I'm going to get starving again.' I did, and my binging got so much worse. So then I kind of blamed Ozempic. I gained double the weight back after."
Should You Take Ozempic For Weight Loss?
If you have type 2 diabetes, Ozempic can be beneficial in aiding with weight loss, Dr. Curry-Winchell says. However, that's not its main purpose, and Dr. Curry-Winchell clarifies that it should only be taken under the care of a healthcare provider to help monitor your response to the drug and act promptly if the drug needs to be discontinued. (Wegovy, the brand name for a medication that uses the same drug as Ozempic but a different dose, is approved for weight-loss under certain circumstances.)
Dr. Boyer emphasizes that people should avoid using a drug to treat a condition if it hasn't yet been approved by the FDA to manage or treat that condition. "Using such drugs may lead to undisclosed health complications, including life-threatening situations," Dr. Boyer adds.
The bottom line: Ozempic is far from a quick weight-loss fix (there's no such thing), although it could have benefits for people with type 2 diabetes. Ultimately, if you're interested in learning more about Ozempic or receiving a prescription, it's best to speak to a medical professional about your individual health history so they can assess what's best for you.
— Additional reporting by Melanie Whyte