Unveiling Ozempic: A Controversial Breakthrough?

Written by Katia Tassiou, content creator and dietitian at Nutrition A-Z and edited by Sandra Mikhail, Founder and Director of Nutrition A-Z.

In recent years, the world of weight loss has witnessed the emergence of various trends and approaches. One such trend that has sparked both curiosity and controversy is the use of Ozempic. Ozempic, also known as semaglutide, is an injectable medication primarily used to manage type 2 diabetes. However, its potential for aiding weight loss has caught the attention of individuals seeking effective solutions to shed unwanted pounds.

Ozempic belongs to a class of medications called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists. These drugs work by mimicking the effects of a hormone called GLP-1, which regulates blood sugar levels and appetite. By stimulating GLP-1 receptors, Ozempic helps reduce appetite, increase feelings of fullness, and slow down the rate at which the stomach empties. These effects can potentially lead to reduced calorie intake, increased satiety, and weight loss.

The controversy? Ozempic is not even an approved medication for weight loss. It is currently only approved for diabetes management. Semaglutide, its active ingredient, is also found in a weight loss approved drug, Wegovy. When Wegovy sold out, doctors started to prescribe Ozempic off-label for weight loss. This created a domino effect, impacting accessibility for thousands of people requiring it to manage their diabetes.
Ozempic is becoming one of the most recognizable pharma brand names of our generation
Now, the question is: who should be able to easily access this drug? Those trying to manage their diabetes? People with weight struggles? What about healthy celebrities?

Both obesity and diabetes are officially recognised as chronic diseases worthy of medical support. The two diseases often co-exist and that can make the decision even more difficult. Doctors should be really thoughtful before prescribing this medication to non-diabetics, taking into consideration how obese an individual is and maybe even the amount of failed weight loss attempts and other factors such as ability to exercise.

It is important to still highlight that nutrition, exercise and lifestyle measures remain first line of approach, both before, during and obviously, after using Ozempic or any other medical treatment for weight loss.

So, Ozempic is not a free ride, and that is not the only reason as it also comes with side effects:

  • The most common side effect is nausea, followed by the other usual GI suspects.
  • Most report the nausea declines pretty steadily over time.
  • Numerous users describe being suddenly repulsed by even seeing their favourite foods.
  • Some report being turned off or filled up too quickly by water, which can potentially increase risk for dehydration as well.
  • There are more potential side effects like thyroid cancer seen in animal research, plus pancreatitis or gallstones.

Other factors for consideration include:

  1. Relying solely on medication without addressing underlying lifestyle factors may lead to limited long-term success.
  2. Individual variations: The response to Ozempic can vary among individuals. Factors such as genetic makeup, overall health, and other medications being taken may influence its effectiveness and safety for weight loss.
  3. Another "food for thought" to be wary of is weight regain. Research suggests that a year after coming off Ozempic, participants gained an average of ⅔ of the weight right back.

Can off-label Ozempic use fuel eating disorders?

Here is a list of potential concerns and risks in relation to eating disorders that unfortunately, we've already seen in clinic:

  • Reinforcement of disordered eating behaviours: Ozempic's ability to suppress appetite can be a double-edged sword for individuals with a predisposition to eating disorders. The medication may inadvertently reinforce restrictive eating patterns, further perpetuating an unhealthy relationship with food.

  • Weight loss focus rather than overall health: The use of Ozempic for weight loss may shift the focus solely on the number on the scale, disregarding other crucial aspects of health, such as balanced nutrition, psychological well-being, and body acceptance. This narrow focus may contribute to an unhealthy preoccupation with weight and appearance, potentially triggering or worsening eating disorder symptoms.

  • Influence on body image dissatisfaction: The societal emphasis on weight loss as a marker of success or attractiveness can contribute to body image dissatisfaction. The use of Ozempic may intensify these pressures, leading to negative body image perceptions and increasing the risk of developing or exacerbating disordered eating behaviours.

  • Co-occurring mental health challenges: Eating disorders often coexist with other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is crucial to consider the potential interaction between Ozempic and these conditions, as they can complicate the treatment process and require specialised care.

Given the potential risks and concerns associated with Ozempic use, it is crucial to involve healthcare professionals in the decision-making process. An interdisciplinary approach that includes medical professionals, therapists, and dietitians can help assess individual risk factors, provide comprehensive support, and monitor any potential adverse effects on mental and physical health. Safety concerns, potential side effects, and the importance of lifestyle changes cannot be overlooked.

If you've struggled with your weight, have considered Ozempic or are considering using it, then please do book in to see us for an initial assessment to discuss your needs and history.

Disclaimer: This blog post is for informational purposes only

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