Losing weight is easier said than done. Not only do you need to persevere with physical activities on a regular basis—you also have to maintain a healthy diet and cut back on sugar and carbohydrates.
Since it can be quite daunting, especially when food cravings hit, some people, including celebrities, have chosen to make their fitness journey a tad bit easier by taking vitamins and medicines to lose weight.
One such drug that has become a social phenomenon for its weight loss properties is Ozempic.
What does Ozempic do?
According to its official website, Ozempic is a medicine being injected into adults with Type 2 diabetes on a weekly basis.
It was developed to improve blood sugar, along with diet and exercise, and reduce the risk of major cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack, stroke, or death in adults with the chronic disease.
Developed by Danish multinational pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, Ozempic has an active ingredient called a "semaglutide" that prompts the body to produce more insulin.
"It mimics the hormone Glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), which pushes the body to produce more insulin that reduces blood sugar. But apart from this action, semaglutide also has a suppressive effect on your appetite, reduces hunger, and increases satiety by slowing down digestion causing food to stay in the stomach for longer periods creating that feeling of fullness," Dr. Antonio Pescador Jr., who specializes in diet and nutrition as well as endocrinology, said in an interview with PhilSTAR L!fe.
"This effect is the reason why using this medication has led to weight loss," he added.
Ozempic has quickly risen in popularity in the fitness community. On TikTok, videos with the hashtag #Ozempic have garnered a total of 1.2 billion views, with many users talking about how the drug has helped them lose several pounds in just a few months.
Several prominent personalities have also admitted to using the weight loss drug, such as Amy Schumer, Chelsea Handler, Elon Musk, among others.
How is it different from Wegovy?
Dr. Eunice Tan, a practitioner of internal medicine and endocrinology, told L!fe that while clinical trials have shown Ozempic to be safe for treating obesity, it is actually an "off-label use."
"Without proper medical advice, this doesn’t work well without the discipline of exercise and cutting down on high caloric intake," she said.
Ozempic has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the sole purpose of treating diabetes and is not intended for weight loss medication. It has a price tag of P5,470 for seniors, according to medical website The Filipino Doctor, but Tan estimated that it can cost up to P8,000 for non-seniors.
Global healthcare company Novo Nordisk, however, has developed another semaglutide drug called Wegovy that distinguishes itself from Ozempic because it is FDA-approved for the treatment of obesity and was actually developed for that purpose.
"The main difference between Ozempic and Wegovy is the amount of semaglutide in a pen and the fact that Wegovy is indicated and approved for management of obesity even in non-diabetic patients, while Ozempic is used to treat Type 2 Diabetes," Pescador explained, adding that Wegovy is not yet available in the Philippines.
"You can try Wegovy if you want to lose weight, but you can't jump to high dose immediately. You should always start at the lowest dose of 0.25mg a week," Tan said.
While Ozempic has not been more than five years in the market, Tan stated that it has proven to be an effective treatment for obese patients to lose a significant weight of at least 5%. But it's important to keep this in mind: "Caveat is that you have to keep using this coupled with the lifestyle modification for it to have a long-lasting effect. Those who stop taking it often gain their weight back."
Its popularity has led to a rise in the number of people obtaining prescriptions for Ozempic, even if they do not have diabetes, resulting in a shortage of the drug for those who actually need it.
Is it safe to use?
Ozempic can bring about some negative side effects to your body that you need to take note of.
"There are those who will experience tummy upset, nausea, constipation, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Diabetics may occasionally experience episodes of hypoglycemia without proper medical supervision," Tan warned.
While Pescador said that its side effects are generally mild, the severity could still depend on the patient's profile, which is why it is important for you to consult your endocrinologist prior to starting the medication.
In a July 25 report by CNN International, two individuals who used Ozempic revealed that they have been diagnosed with severe gastroparesis or stomach paralysis, which medical experts believe was a side effect of the weight loss drug. “I wish I never touched it. I wish I’d never heard of it in my life,” 37-year-old Joanie Knight told the media outlet. “This medicine made my life hell. So much hell. It has cost me money. It cost me a lot of stress; it cost me days and nights and trips with my family. It’s cost me a lot, and it’s not worth it.”
Schumer also previously shared that the drug has left her feeling weak and fatigued, saying "I was one of those people that felt so sick and couldn’t play with my son."
Alternatives you can try
No matter how much you want to lose weight, the reality is that you can’t achieve your ideal body type in just a snap of a finger.
As Pescador pointed out, "Obesity is a chronic metabolic disorder, and that there is no one size fits all management when it comes to this condition. It is important that people continue with lifestyle changes, including healthy food choices and exercise."
Tan stressed that obesity is a tricky condition to treat, which is why it’s always best to go for the natural ways of losing weight.
"We always go for long-term weight loss because obesity has many complications. Due to the cost of this drug plus the fact that many want to lose weight without managing their behaviors in eating and exercise, we, endocrinologists, would not go for Ozempic immediately for weight loss," she said.
How can you get closer to your goal weight without taking Ozempic? For Pescador, it still boils down to diet and exercise.
"It is all about the balance between energy (caloric) intake and expenditure. When expenditure exceeds intake, it will lead to weight loss. You can achieve that by increasing your expenditure by doing exercises and engaging in physical activities, or by decreasing your intake by diet," he advised.
A 500-calorie deficit per day could make you lose one pound per week. It also helps if you can consume vegetables rich in fiber as they could keep you full for longer, eventually decreasing your caloric intake.
Tan highlighted that the motivation to lose weight and the willingness to pay the price of discipline is of "utmost importance" in your fitness journey.
"To lose weight, teamwork is important. For example, all family members do it together or a friend who has the discipline is coaching the obese person," she added.
Tan also recommended changing your workout routine every six months for optimum results.