Billionaire Elon Musk credited it for his dramatic weight loss. Celebrity sites allege that many more A-listers are using it to stay trim. And TikTok is full of influencers showing off their startling before-and-after shots showing off their weight loss after using it.
What is it? A medication called semaglutide, which is sold under different brand names, including Ozempic and Wegovy.
The buzz about these drugs has created a shortage of both, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is expected to last for several months—causing alarm among diabetes patients who rely on Ozempic to help control their blood sugar. Experts caution that it’s important to understand these are not miracle drugs—and that there are risks to taking them outside of their intended use.
Here’s what you need to know about semaglutide, including how it works and the risks.
What’s the science behind the drug?
Semaglutide helps lower blood sugar by mimicking a hormone that’s naturally secreted when food is consumed, says Ariana Chao, medical director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Weight and Eating Disorders. This medication, administered through injection, helps people feel full for longer, helps regulate appetite, and reduces hunger and cravings.
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There is significant demand for the drug. In 2019, more than 11 percent of the population was diagnosed with diabetes, while more than four in ten adults qualified as obese in 2020.
In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Ozempic for use in individuals with type 2 diabetes. These patients often have low levels of insulin, a hormone that helps break down food and convert it into fuel the body can use, Chao says. Ozempic signals the pancreas to create more insulin, which helps control blood sugar levels and also lowers glucagon, a hormone that raises sugar levels. This can result in weight loss but experts point out that Ozempic has not been approved for that purpose.
Wegovy was approved just last year for obese or overweight patients, the first drug since 2014 to be approved for chronic weight management. The difference between the two drugs is that Wegovy is administered at a higher dose of semaglutide than Ozempic; clinical trials showed more weight loss but only modest improvements in glycemic control at this higher dose, Chao says.
What are the risks?
Like every medication, there can be downsides.
The most common side effects are …….