You may have heard of Ozempic, the drug sweeping the nation as it is increasingly used as an off-label treatment for weight loss, or perhaps you even take Ozempic yourself. But what is Ozempic, and is it really as safe as it claims?
What is Ozempic?
Ozempic is an FDA approved medication that belongs to a class of drugs called glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonists, or GLP-1 RA for short. In essence, this means that the drug is intended to mimic a naturally occurring hormone, GLP-1, which helps your body release enough insulin to properly control your blood sugar levels. These drugs work by activating the same receptors in your body as GLP-1, which can help individuals with type 2 diabetes in managing their blood sugar levels. Other drugs, such as Rybelsus and Wegovy, utilize the same active ingredient as Ozempic, semaglutide, to produce similar results. Other active ingredients that can be used as GLP-1 receptor agonists in medications include dulaglutide (also known as Trulicity) and tirzepatide (also known as Mounjaro) to achieve the same result.
What else can they be used for?
A growing number of studies have demonstrated that these same drugs can slow down how fast your stomach empties food, which in practice meant that people taking these medications could feel full for longer, and a result, some of these individuals lost weight. In 2021, Wegovy (which uses the same active ingredient as Ozempic) was approved by the FDA for weight management, the first medication to obtain such approval since 2014. At present, most other drugs in this class, such as Ozempic and Trulicity, are still only approved by the FDA to treat diabetes. But that hasn’t stopped the increased marketing or usage of these medications for off-label use as a weight loss drug.
But is it safe?
Recently, an increasing number of individuals have reported serious side effects and even injuries as a result of taking Ozempic and other similar drugs. Some individuals have reported feeling full longer than intended, in some cases even for days at a time. Other side effects have included nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain, side effects that Ozempic initially claimed would decrease over time. Ozempic removed mention of these side effects from the instructions given to medical providers on what information to provide to patients in 2020 after being listed since 2017, despite studies indicating these side effects can be common.
More serious reported side effects have included bowel obstructions, pancreatitis, and diseases affecting the gallbladder and other parts of the biliary system, side effects which can have serious and potentially long-term effects on those who suffer from them. More recently, a 2023 study has linked Ozempic and other similar medications to increasing the likelihood of developing gastroparesis, also known as stomach paralysis, a side effect that Ozempic did not propose to the FDA. Gastroparesis can contribute to nausea and vomiting, acid reflux, and the development of stomach blockages. In severe cases, gastroparesis can cause serious complications such as malnutrition, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance.
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