In America today, obesity is a common but serious chronic disease that is costly both economically and health-wise. Obesity is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health”. A body mass index (BMI) over 25 is considered overweight, while a BMI over 30 is considered obese.
Millions of people worldwide die every year from obesity; in the U.S. alone, more than one-third of the adult population currently suffers from the condition. Obesity dramatically increases the risk of other weight-related conditions and is directly correlated with Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease, strokes, certain types of cancer, and many more causes of preventable, premature death.
While increased exercise levels and dietary shifts are the core elements of healthy weight loss, prescription medications are also an option that can be beneficial under the right circumstances. In fact, a number of weight loss drugs have been approved by the FDA over the years to augment the impacts of healthy lifestyle changes. If you’ve been researching weight loss medications, you may have come across Ozempic (semaglutide).
Though primarily indicated as a treatment for Type 2 Diabetes and cardiovascular disease in people with Type 2 Diabetes, Ozempic has garnered an “off-label” reputation as a weight loss drug. With 432.3 million TikTok views related to Ozempic, it’s fair to say that the is being touted as a miracle in the eyes of social media and pop culture.
But is it really? And is Ozempic actually safe to take if you’re not diabetic?
Below, we’ll take an accurate look at Ozempic for weight loss—what it is, when it may safely be used, and how much of an impact it may actually have on your waistline.
The following information is well-researched but never meant to replace an appointment with your doctor. Use the information you read here to supplement conversations with your primary healthcare provider.
What Is Ozempic?
Ozempic is a brand-name drug with an active ingredient called semaglutide. Semaglutide imitates glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1), a hormone released by the small intestine, and helps to regulate blood sugar, prevent major cardiovascular events, and decrease appetite. Ozempic also slows down the speed of food exiting the stomach (known as gastric emptying) and increases feelings of satiety or fullness. It is injected subcutaneously once weekly and is FDA-approved to treat Type 2 Diabetes in adults.
Who Is Ozempic Meant For?
Plain and simple, Ozempic is meant for individuals with Type 2 Diabetes. It has not been officially approved as a weight loss drug by the FDA. If your doctor is prescribing Ozempic for you and you don’t have Type 2 Diabetes, it’s considered an “off-label” prescription.
See also: Is Ozempic Covered by Insurance?
How Ozempic Works for Weight Loss
Semaglutide (the active ingredient in Ozempic) is known as a GLP-1 receptor agonist. GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide 1) is a hormone produced by the small intestine during digestion. In addition to promoting the release of insulin and regulating blood sugar, it also sends messages to your brain that digestion is underway.
When your brain believes that food is being digested, you feel full (satiated) and don’t experience the same hunger pangs you normally might. Ozempic also slows down gastric emptying (the rate at which food is emptied from your stomach into your small intestine), which allows you to feel fuller for longer.
Ozempic is most effective when complemented with regular exercise and a healthy diet.
Average Weight Loss on Ozempic
Novo Nordisk has sponsored a series of medical trials, known as STEP trials, to test a higher dose of semaglutide (2.4 mg/week) specifically for weight loss. The results have consistently demonstrated that this higher dose of semaglutide results in increased weight loss (as compared to lower doses or placebo doses).
So, how effective is semaglutide for weight loss?
In Ozempic’s STEP 1 clinical trial, patients taking semaglutide lost an average of 33.7 lbs. (15.3 kg) over 68 weeks at a 2.4 mg weekly dose.
In the STEP 2 clinical trial, patients lost approximately 10% of their body weight after 68 weeks at the same dosage.
A third trial found that a 2.4 mg/week dose of semaglutide resulted in an average body weight reduction of 16% in combination with intensive behavioral therapy to support the adoption of a healthier lifestyle.
Though these results are very encouraging (in some cases even surpassing more invasive weight loss therapies, such as surgery), it’s important to remember that, like any drug, Ozempic won’t produce the same, sustainable weight loss results for every person. The impact of Ozempic on your personal weight loss may be influenced by many factors including your genetic history, health history, diet, lifestyle, physical activity level, and the unique biology and chemistry of your own body.
Can a Non-Diabetic Take Ozempic for Weight Loss?
Ozempic is intended to treat Type 2 Diabetes and the FDA has not approved it for any other purpose, including weight loss. Using medications to treat conditions they aren’t indicated for can come with unintended risks and side effects that can be dangerous to your overall health too. It’s not recommended to take Ozempic unless you have Type 2 Diabetes and your doctor has specifically prescribed it for that condition.
That being said, if you’re interested in Ozempic for weight loss but don’t have Type 2 Diabetes, you could ask your doctor about Wegovy. Wegovy is also a semaglutide drug. Other than its dosage (2.4 mg), it is very similar to Ozempic and has been FDA-approved for weight loss.
Dosing for Weight Loss
Ozempic is typically prescribed to treat Type 2 Diabetes at a 0.5 mg, 1 mg, or 2 mg dose, but research has shown that the optimal dosage for weight loss is 2.4 mg. Just as with lower doses, this higher dose is typically built up over time—starting with a small dose and increasing it gradually over several weeks to promote tolerance and decrease side effects.
Ozempic can be taken for as long as it is effective. Clinical trials for weight loss indicate that its benefits extend up to 68 weeks and beyond.
Ozempic and Wegovy contain the same medication but at different doses. Only Wegovy (2.4 mg) is FDA-approved for weight loss.
Is Ozempic Safe?
The fact that Ozempic has been FDA-approved indicates that it’s considered to be a safe and effective treatment for adults with Type 2 Diabetes and related cardiovascular disease. This does not, however, mean that there are no risks associated with the medication.
Be cautious when starting any new medication and consider carefully whether or not the potential benefits will outweigh the risks. Ozempic is no exception.
Common Side Effects
As with any medication, side effects may occur when starting Ozempic. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and stomach pain. One of the reasons why Ozempic dosages are increased gradually over the course of several weeks is to reduce the impact of side effects. Speak with your doctor if side effects persist.
Serious side effects are uncommon with Ozempic, but if you experience vision problems, reduced renal function, or severe allergic reactions, seek emergency assistance immediately. Also, be aware that Ozempic is not recommended for patients who have a personal or family history of Medullary Thyroid Carcinoma (MTC) or Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Syndrome Type 2 (MEN 2). For more information on side effects, consult the medication insert or speak directly with a healthcare professional.
Things To Avoid While on Ozempic
If you do decide to move forward with an Ozempic prescription, keep in mind that it will limit you in certain ways.
First off, you’ll need to limit your alcohol consumption while on Ozempic. Alcohol can impact your blood sugar and may cause a serious drop in combination with Ozempic, especially if you’re drinking on an empty stomach. Alcohol can also irritate your stomach, which can compound some of Ozempic’s gastrointestinal side effects.
Second, you’ll need to talk with your doctor about any other medications you may be taking. Because Ozempic slows down gastric emptying, it can potentially impact the quantity of oral medication being absorbed by your body.
Lastly, you’ll need to let your doctor know about any other weight loss medications you may be taking (including herbal supplements or over-the-counter drugs). Using multiple medications for the same purpose can be risky, so be sure to assess your situation carefully before continuing.
Ozempic may be publicized as a miracle drug that can help obese or overweight people lose weight fast, but that’s not the whole story. While it’s true that studies have shown semaglutide to aid in healthy weight loss at a 2.4 mg weekly dose, such results don’t occur in isolation. Ozempic must be accompanied by healthy lifestyle changes as well (increased exercise and a reduced-calorie diet).
Not only that, but Ozempic is not currently approved for weight loss by the FDA. So, if you want it solely for that purpose, you’re looking at an “off-label” prescription. This can come with its own risks since Ozempic is only considered a safe and effective treatment for adults with Type 2 Diabetes.
Wegovy, a semaglutide injectable that has the same active ingredient as Ozempic but comes in a higher dosage (2.4 mg), has recently been approved for weight loss by the FDA. If you’re seeking a weight loss drug similar to Ozempic, Wegovy could be a great alternative.
No matter where you are on your weight loss journey, remember that a healthy diet and regular exercise are the keys to healthy body. Medications can help you manage your weight loss, but should never be your primary weight management solution.
Use the information above to have an informed conversation with your doctor or primary healthcare provider. With their support, you can determine whether or not Ozempic from Canada will be your best option moving forward.