Nearly half of Americans say they’re interested in using a safe and effective prescription drug to lose weight, as a relatively new class of drugs initially approved to treat diabetes is growing in popularity for their ability to shed pounds with minimal effort.
A new trend fueled by more than 4,000 ad campaigns on social media, celebrities, and news coverage is enticing millions of Americans to turn to Ozempic and Wegovy, despite the potential harms associated with the drugs.
Ozempic is a weekly injection first approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017 to help lower blood sugar in adults with Type 2 diabetes by forcing the pancreas to produce more insulin.
The Skyrocketing Demand for Ozempic and WegovyAccording to a 2023 Tebra survey:
- 15 percent of Americans have personally taken Ozempic for weight loss.
- 42 percent of medical practitioners have had patients without diabetes ask for a prescription.
- 18 percent of medical practitioners have prescribed it for weight loss.
- 14 percent of medical practitioners have personally taken the drug for weight loss.
Mechanisms for Weight Loss and Side EffectsOzempic and Wegovy contain the same active ingredient, semaglutide, although Wegovy contains a larger amount. Wegovy was approved in 2021 by the FDA as a treatment for obesity in individuals aged 12 or older and for adults who are overweight with a weight-related health condition.
Ozempic and Wegovy are glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists that mimic the body’s natural GLP-1 hormone. GLP-1 is released from cells in the small intestine and in smaller quantities by the pancreas and central nervous system. GLP-1 helps regulate appetite, stimulates insulin secretion, inhibits glucagon secretion, and delays gastric emptying.
Out of 175 patients, almost half (85 patients) reported adverse effects, including gastrointestinal symptoms, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue. Five patients had to stop taking the drug due to the intolerability of adverse effects, while 15 patients had to reduce or remain on the same dose to avoid exacerbation of adverse effects.
In this double-blind trial, 1,961 adults with a body mass index of 30 or greater, who did not have diabetes, were enrolled in the study and randomly assigned, in a ratio of 2 to 1, for 68 weeks of treatment with a weekly 2.4 mg dose of subcutaneous semaglutide or placebo, plus lifestyle intervention.
The mean reduction in body weight from baseline to week 68 was 14.9 percent in the semaglutide group as compared with 2.4 percent in the placebo group.
Nausea and diarrhea were the most common adverse events reported with semaglutide, and more participants in the semaglutide group than in the placebo group discontinued treatment due to gastrointestinal events—59 participants compared to five in the placebo group.
After 20 weeks, some people continued to take Wegovy, while others switched to a placebo. From weeks 20 to 68, those taking Wegovy continued to lose weight, while people taking a placebo regained much of the weight they had lost. The study results suggest that Wegovy may need to be taken long term and that the weight may return if people stop taking it.
Wegovy and Ozempic Carry FDA's Highest Safety WarningsLosing weight with drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy may come at a price due to the side effects as well as the potential unknown long-term adverse reactions. According to Wegovy’s website, both Wegovy and Ozempic have caused thyroid C-cell tumors, including thyroid cancer, in studies with rodents.
In addition to potential thyroid tumors and cancer, these drugs are contraindicated for those with multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome Type 2.
- Kidney failure.
- Inflammation of the pancreas.
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
- Gallbladder problems.
- Gastrointestinal disorders.
- Nervous system disorders.
- Vision changes.
- Persistent suicidal thoughts with increased severity with higher doses.
Postmarketing reports indicate drugs containing semaglutide, such as Wegovy and Ozempic, may cause acute kidney injury and worsening chronic renal failure. Some cases have occurred in people who did not know they had underlying renal disease and experienced common symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
In a trial of adult patients with Type 2 diabetes with a higher body mass index, diabetic retinopathy was reported in 4 percent of those who received Wegovy versus 2.7 percent in placebo-treated patients.
According to Novo Nordisk on their package insert, suicidal behavior and ideation, worsening depression, and unusual changes in mood and behavior have been reported in clinical trials with similar weight management products.
Wegovy's insert carries a warning about suicidal thoughts because the FDA requires medications for weight management that affect the central nervous system to carry a warning, but the agency has not added the warning to Ozempic.