Ozempic, the “worst kept secret in Hollywood,” has become increasingly popular due to its weight loss results—hyped even by billionaire Elon Musk—causing a shortage, even though it’s really meant for use in patients with type two diabetics.
Ozempic (known generically as semaglutide) is an injection used to lower blood sugar and hemoglobin A1C (the part of red blood cells with glucose attached) in type two diabetics; low A1C levels decrease diabetes complications like stroke, high blood pressure and blindness.
Manufactured by Novo Nordisk, the drug is a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor antagonist (a class of drugs used to treat diabetes) that was first approved for use in type two diabetics in 2017.
To lower blood sugar and A1C, the drug reacts with the body in three ways by helping the pancreas produce more insulin when blood sugar is high, slowing down the process of food leaving the stomach and stopping the liver from making and releasing too much sugar.
It’s meant to be injected once weekly in either the thigh, stomach or upper arm, with or without meals at any time of day, and patients typically start out taking a dose of 0.25 mg, though after four weeks it’s bumped up to 0.5 mg and then up to 1 mg if “more glycemic control is needed.”
Out of the more than 37 million Americans with diabetes, the vast majority—between 90% to 95%— have type two diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One of the side effects of Ozempic is weight loss, so some doctors have been prescribing the drug as an off-label use (the unapproved use of an approved drug) for weight loss in those without diabetes—Ozempic has not been approved by the FDA as a weight loss drug.
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found those who took Ozempic for 68 weeks, paired with a reduced calorie diet and a more active lifestyle saw an average change of body weight of 14.9% compared to a 2.4% change in the placebo group.
These findings have caused both obese people and those slightly overweight to request Ozempic prescriptions from their doctors.
Although Ozempic isn’t approved for weight loss, Wegovy, a higher-dose version of Ozempic, was approved for weight loss by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2021 for obese or overweight adults with at least one weight-related condition like diabetes or high blood pressure.
Wegovy and Ozempic are both listed by the FDA as two of almost 200 medications in a supply shortage, their recent rise in popularity for weight loss is believed to be the reason for their shortage. Francisco Prieto, a California-based physician told the Los Angeles Times that due to the shortage, his patients who take Ozempic have to “call multiple pharmacies and drive around town to see if it’s in stock,” with some still not being able to fill their prescriptions.
According to the chief of clinical nutrition at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Dr. Zhaoping Li, people should be wary of using diabetes drugs for weight loss. “The issue is that this is one of the tools in our box, it is not the end-all,” she told Variety. “The longest study done on these injections was conducted over less than two years. A lot of questions have not been answered.”
Some of the most common side effects that Ozempic causes are nausea, diarrhea, constipation and stomach pain. However, more serious side effects may occur, like possible thyroid tumors and cancer. According to Novo Nordisk, if someone takes the drug and feels a shortness of breath, a lump or swelling in the neck, trouble swallowing or hoarseness, they should contact their primary care doctor.
Ozempic and other diabetes drugs like Mounjaro have made their way around Hollywood, with different celebrities and influencers boosting their weight loss as a result of the drugs. For example, when someone pointed out Elon Musk’s weight loss on Twitter in October, Musk responded that he achieved the look through fasting “and Wegovy.” His comment was met with a mixture of praise and criticism, with someone bringing up the drug shortages, claiming Musk didn’t “need it for weight loss, diabetics ACTUALLY need it.” According to Variety, the drugs have “devotees from every corner of the industry,” with actors, executives and agents alike glorifying them on Signal, an encrypted instant messaging service used to hold confidential conversations. Even just speculation is enough to draw controversy, and hashtag #ozempic has over 350 million views on TikTok. Thousands of videos are posted with the hashtag with people sharing their weight loss journeys and before and after pictures, with some attributing the drug’s rise in popularity on the app to its supply shortage.
What Is Ozempic and Why Is It Getting So Much Attention? (New York Times)