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- Ozempic is the brand name for the generic prescription medication, semaglutide, and was approved by the FDA for the treatment of type 2 diabetes in 2017.
- Ozempic works for weight loss by mimicking the action of GLP-1, a gut-derived hormone that occurs naturally in the body.
- Side effects can include nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. Over time, the side effects may subside.
The prevalence of obesity has been increasing dramatically over the past few decades. From 1999 through 2020, U.S. obesity prevalence increased from 30.5% to 41.9%. This means that more than 138,000,000 Americans are now living with a BMI over 30, the threshold for obesity.
Being severely overweight or obese can bring about significant physical and mental health issues. Obesity is a risk factor for chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. These conditions not only impact our physical health, but also our mental well-being. Being diagnosed with a chronic condition and coping with symptoms can be overwhelming.
Despite efforts to combat obesity through lifestyle interventions and medication, until today, we haven't had effective enough solutions to address this epidemic. However, a new class of medications called GLP-1 agonists are showing promise in the fight against obesity and helping thousands of people see the weight loss results that had been so elusive until now.
“GLP-1 medications like Ozempic can initiate significant weight loss and help to address some of the physiology that makes it so hard to lose weight,” explains Alexa Stelzer, RDN, LD, CDCES, and clinical health coach at One Drop. “By reducing appetite and helping people feel full faster, GLP-1 medications can make it easier for people to reduce portion sizes and be successful with other nutrition changes.”
What is Ozempic?
Ozempic is the brand name for the generic prescription medication, semaglutide, and was developed by the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. It was first approved by the FDA in 2017 for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. In 2021, the FDA approved Ozempic for the treatment of obesity under the brand name Wegovy.
“Ozempic is a once weekly medication. It can provide cardiovascular health benefits, reducing your risk of stroke and heart attack,” says Stelzer. “It may also benefit the kidneys. It’s currently approved to help manage type 2 diabetes although it is often prescribed off-label for weight loss.”
Note: Ozempic and Wegovy are the same medication (semaglutide), but Ozempic is indicated for type 2 diabetes while Wegovy is indicated for the treatment of obesity.
How Does Ozempic Work for Weight Loss?
Semaglutide, the generic name for Ozempic, works by mimicking the action of GLP-1, a gut-derived hormone that occurs naturally in the body. Semaglutide activates GLP-1 receptors in the brain, which reduces appetite, causing people to eat less food overall. Ozempic helps you think less about food, giving you the mental energy to build healthier habits around eating.
Here’s a breakdown of all the ways semaglutide can contribute to weight loss and better overall health:
Increases feelings of fullness: Semaglutide and other GLP-1 medications slow gastric emptying, a crucial step in the digestion and absorption of nutrients from the food we eat. When the passage of food from the stomach into the small intestine slows down, you naturally feel fuller faster and longer after eating.
Limits fat absorption: Glucagon is a hormone produced in the pancreas that signals the liver to release glucose into the bloodstream when blood sugar levels are low. When GLP-1 levels are increased, the production of glucagon is reduced, which leads to a reduction in fat accumulation in the liver. Excessive fat accumulation in the liver can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition associated with insulin resistance and an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Reduces cravings and appetite: Ozempic activates GLP-1 receptors in the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates appetite. This leads to a reduction in hunger and food intake. A 2017 study showed that semaglutide was associated with a lower preference for high-fat food, making it easier to reach for healthy options when hunger strikes.
Balances blood sugar: When insulin sensitivity is low, your cells can’t easily absorb energy from glucose. As a result, some glucose is then stored as fat rather than utilized for producing energy. A GLP-1 medication such as Ozempic improves glucose metabolism by increasing insulin sensitivity and reducing glucose production in the liver, causing less fat to accumulate.
Reduces body weight: Ozempic has been shown to reduce body weight and body fat in clinical trials. In a 68-week study, people taking Ozempic lost an average of nearly 15% of their body weight. As a result, waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) are lowered as well. Ozempic also increases the secretion of a hormone called adiponectin, which promotes fat burning and reduces inflammation.
What are the Side Effects of Ozempic?
As with any medication, Ozempic and other GLP-1 medications can cause side effects, some of which may be serious.
The most common side effects of Ozempic include nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. “For most people, side effects from GLP-1 medications are temporary and the effects can be reduced by titrating your medication dose gradually,” explains Stelzer. “Eating smaller meals and avoiding fried foods or those high in fat can also help to reduce GI side effects.”
Less common side effects of Ozempic include inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Pancreatitis can be a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of pancreatitis include severe abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Hypoglycemia can also be a serious condition that requires treatment. Symptoms of hypoglycemia include sweating, dizziness, confusion, and blurred vision.
In rare cases, Ozempic may also increase the risk of thyroid cancer or allergic reactions. If you experience any symptoms of an allergic reaction, such as hives, swelling of the face or throat, or difficulty breathing, contact your healthcare provider right away.
Who Qualifies for Ozempic?
Ozempic is only available with a prescription from a healthcare provider.
For the treatment of type 2 diabetes, Ozempic is typically prescribed for adults who have not achieved adequate blood sugar control with diet and exercise alone. It may be used alone or in combination with other diabetes medications, such as metformin, sulfonylureas, or insulin.
For the treatment of obesity, Ozempic is usually prescribed for adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, or for adults with a BMI of 27 or higher who have at least one weight-related health condition, such as high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes. Ozempic is not recommended for weight loss in people without obesity or for the treatment of binge eating disorder.
Ozempic may not be appropriate for everyone and may interact with other medications or medical conditions. It’s important to discuss all medications and medical conditions with your healthcare provider before starting Ozempic. Additionally, people with a personal or family history of thyroid cancer should not take Ozempic.
How Long Does it Take for Ozempic to Work?
“Most people start to see weight loss after a few weeks of taking Ozempic, however the rate of weight loss can vary greatly from one person to the next,” says Stelzer. “People’s eating and lifestyle patterns, the rate of medication titration, and an individual’s unique biological response to the medication can all play a role in the rate of weight loss.”
While you can start seeing results from Ozempic fairly quickly, it can take some time to get used to the effect it has on your mind and eating habits. “To help yourself adjust to eating smaller portions, try using smaller plates and bowls or serving yourself smaller portions at the start of the meal,” suggests Stelzer. “Eat slowly and aim to complete your meal when you’re feeling the first signs of fullness, knowing that your food will continue to digest and feelings of fullness will likely increase in the hour after you finish your meal.”
The Bottom Line
Until recently, effective solutions to tackle the problem of rising obesity rates have been limited. With the advent of GLP-1 medications like Ozempic, people living with obesity and its complications are seeing real results and finding hope.
“If you’re interested in trying Ozempic for weight loss, you’ll want to communicate closely with your healthcare provider to be sure you understand the risks and benefits of taking medication off-label,” suggests Stelzer. “You may want to talk with your doctor about whether Wegovy, a higher-dose version of semaglutide that is approved for weight loss, is a better option for you.”
This article has been clinically reviewed by Hanna Rifkin, RD, CDCES, clinical health coach at One Drop.