Is Ozempic a Miracle Drug for Weight Loss?
January 04, 2023
A popular drug for type 2 diabetes, called Ozempic, is generating a lot of media buzz. Demand has surged for the medication because of its impressive ability to help people lose weight. But is it safe? University Hospitals nurse practitioner Katie O’Boyle, CNP, a certified specialist in obesity and weight management, helps breaks down the facts about Ozempic.
What Is Ozempic?
Ozempic was approved in 2017 for treatment of type 2 diabetes, while a higher dose of semaglutide was approved in 2021 for weight loss under the name Wegovy. Both drugs contain the active compound semaglutide and require weekly injections.
These drugs work by increasing an appetite-suppressing hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), which stimulates the release of insulin to control blood sugar.
“I think this drug class is the best medical tool we have, to date, for the treatment of obesity,” says O’Boyle.
Because Ozempic was FDA approved for type 2 diabetes, doctors must prescribe it “off-label” for weight loss. The off-label designation means that prescription insurance generally won’t cover Ozempic for weight loss alone.
O’Boyle says besides prescribing Ozempic for diabetes, she will prescribe it for patients who haven’t been diagnosed with diabetes but who are at risk due to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes.
Several insurance companies were approving Ozempic for these at-risk patients, she says, but many insurers will stop in 2023 unless the patient has a diabetes diagnosis.
“This is disheartening as the benefits of GLP-1 use in patients with these metabolic disorders are so significant,” she says.
Out-of-pocket costs run $1,000 or more a month without insurance.
How Do These Drugs Work?
The active ingredient in the drugs, semaglutide, lowers blood sugar levels, regulates insulin and limits appetite by making you feel full and causing the stomach to empty more slowly.
“The medication has a direct effect on stomach emptying,” Ms. O’Boyle says. “It slows down the digestive system, which helps patients to stay full longer and need less food to fill up.”
Pros and Cons of Ozempic for Weight Loss
O’Boyle says that medications like Ozempic tend to be better tolerated than other anti-obesity medications and gastrointestinal side effects are easily managed.
“With medications such as stimulants or appetite suppressants, there is a risk of increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, jitteriness and other adverse effects,” she says.
“With GLP-1 drugs, the cardiovascular risks are not the same. We find that patients tend to tolerate Ozempic better and they are more effective than appetite suppressants.”
Pros of Ozempic include:
- Weight loss
- Normalization of insulin and glucose levels in the blood
- Improvement in risk factors directly related to cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and liver disease.
Cons of Ozempic may include:
- Possible gastrointestinal side effects (diarrhea, nausea, vomiting)
- Possible link to pancreatitis and thyroid nodules
Our team of weight loss doctors and surgeons, medical weight loss specialists, nutrition experts, and other clinical support staff provide a wide range of weight loss solutions – and help you find the right one for your personal weight loss goals. Learn more.