Search

Ozempic Obsession: A Gamechanger for Weight Loss or Hazardous Health Trend

Gerald Bell

      Being hailed as the game-changer for helping people lose weight, Ozempic–the prescription drug used to treat type two diabetes–has gained enormous traction in recent years due to its appeal to millions of overweight Americans who can’t seem to shed unwanted pounds the traditional diet-and-exercise way. Celebrities, influencers, community leaders and many in between are buying into the Ozempic obsession hoping for trimmer waistlines without working up the sweat. Before the end of 2023, investors predicted that Novo Nordisk, the pharmaceutical manufacturer that produces Ozempic, would see earnings of over $4 billion in revenue from the sale of the drug. 

      Oprah Winfrey, who has been a dominant figure in national conversations about dieting, recently announced that she’s taking weight loss medication as a “maintenance tool.” 

      The Ozempic talk-up has become so robust that on TikTok alone, #ozempic has generated over 350 million views and counting. Novo tells investors its target market is the 764 million people with obesity across the globe and as part of its rollout launched a major campaign to convince U.S. doctors to make Wegovy one of the most widely prescribed drugs in history – and to try and persuade skeptical insurers to pay for it.

      Inglewood based kidney specialist Dr. Randall Maxey, has been administering Ozempic to select patients to assist their weight loss goals. His comprehensive program includes a weekly injection of the drug while monitoring patients for side effects. 

      “We make sure you do all your blood work, and we follow you medically because every individual is different,” Maxey explains. “We want to make sure there are no side effects.”

      According to the Food and Drug Administration, side effects associated with the use of Ozempic can range from constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, kidney damage, fainting, gallbladder problems, stomach pains, inflammation of the pancreas, and more. 

      “If something is going [wrong with my patients], I want to know,” said Maxey. “If somebody’s getting bad blood results, or their amylase is going up, I may give them stuff for that…I may give them fiber if they’re constipated. I may give them something to stop the diarrhea if they have it. But if it’s major side effects, I’m going to stop [the injections].”

      In addition to benefit of losing weight, another attraction to Ozempic are the studies reporting the reduced risk of heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular issues by some 20 percent of overweight or obese people with heart disease. These results are what convinced JT Torbit, a patient of Dr. Maxey, to try Ozempic last year. 

      With a family history of heart disease, and the fact that his mother died of heart failure, Torbit said, “I wanted to do what I could to mitigate the possibility of anything that was going to contribute to heart failure [in me]. And weight gain is one of those things…So, I knew I needed to lose some weight and lose it quick.”

      Among African American adults, 37.1 percent of men and 56.6 percent of women, are clinically obese, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports. African American women have the highest rates of obesity or being overweight compared to other groups in the United States. Thus, about four out of five African American women are overweight or obese.  

      “When weighing in, I saw my BMI drop 2 points since I started Ozempic and that was in 3 weeks,” said Torbit, 36, who began his weight loss journey weighing 266 pounds and is currently down to 246 pounds. “I would love to get down to 180.” 

      The season of indulging in rich holiday favorites (sweet potato pie, honey baked ham, oxtails, collard greens, and homemade bread) has come and gone. Meaning countless dieters have set out to work off whatever pounds they gained the last few weeks before the New Year. But according to US News & World Report, the failure rate for New Year’s resolutions–particularly dieting–is said to be around 80%, and most lose their resolve by mid-February. 

      “Even with the best intentions, New Year’s diet resolutions have an unreliable track record,” says Los Angeles based Weight Management Specialist James King, III. “Only 5% of people who lose significant weight keep it off ten years later. Most gain all the weight back within one year and over 50% of those who deliberately lose weight, weigh even more than their original pre-diet weight 3 to 5 years later.”

      Torbit believes he can avoid the failure rate and has integrated a manageable exercise plan alongside his Ozempic injections. He uses his Apple Watch to daily monitor number of steps taken, calories burned, distance, and overall physical activity. 

      “I am closing my rings every day. Whether that is by walking or a light workout. But it’s nothing serious or drastic,” said Torbit, whose only side effect to date an initial episode of drowsiness with his first injection of the drug.

      According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, patients who took Wegovy (an FDA approved drug for weight loss that contains the same active ingredient as Ozempic but at a higher dose) for 68 weeks who also exercised and maintained a reduced calorie diet had an average change of body weight of 14.9% compared to a 2.4% change in patients given a placebo. 

      It is critical to note that Ozempic has not been FDA approved for its use in weight loss. Medical experts warn that it should not be used for short-term weight loss, because the drug is meant to be used for long-term therapy of diabetes, since diabetes is a chronic, long-lasting disease. “Short-term use of Ozempic to shed pounds for a wedding or party often leads to adverse events and ultimately the weight that is lost will be regained after discontinuing the drug,” offers Dr. Christopher McGowan a gastroenterologist specializing in obesity medicine.

      All physicians have a right to prescribe drugs for off-label use if they deem it appropriate to help their patients. There is a concern that prescribing drugs this way will limit it for those that really need the drug for its intended use. In the case of Ozempic, the people that need this the most are type two diabetics who are trying to control their blood sugar levels and ultimately prolong their life. 

      Actor Anthony Anderson who lives with type-2 diabetes, has condemned the use of Ozempic for vanity weight loss purposes. Anderson told People magazine he hopes his message will stop the trend.

      According to CDC data, more than 37 million Americans have diabetes, and more than 88% of American adults diagnosed with diabetes use some form of medication to treat and control their disease. The more Ozempic is used for short-term weight loss, the less available it will be for type two diabetics that may need it to control their blood sugar.

      Considered safe when it comes to treating diabetes, recently some weight loss users of Ozempic are revealing alarming and unhappy outcomes. 

      Television personality Sharon Osbourne took to the press to vent her frustrations from constant weight fluctuations to the degree that she couldn’t regain any weight after losing more than she wanted. “I’ve lost 42 pounds, and I can’t afford to lose any more,” said Osbourne, 71, who dipped under 100 pounds from using the drug. “I’m too gaunt and I can’t put any weight on. I want to – because I feel I’m too skinny.”

      “[Osbourne’s] story is really important to consider when laying out for people the entire landscape of what could happen while on these drugs,” said Dr. Jody Dushay, an endocrinologist at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who treats obesity and prescribes weight loss medications. “We don’t know what a person’s response to these medications might be. You can be anywhere from a non-responder to a super-responder, and if you’re the latter, it might seem amazing from the get-go, but it can be very complicated.”

      Although it’s rare to lose so much weight that it’s a struggle to gain it back, most studies show that people who are overweight can regain some or most of the weight they lost within a year after coming off medications such as Ozempic and Mounjaro (approved to treat diabetes), as well as Wegovy and Zepbound (approved for weight loss).

      Recent reports show that ten percent of Ozempic users are not able to handle many of its side effects which has resulted in the hospitalization of certain people for intestinal issues or more serious conditions, which include pancreatitus, kidney problems and Gastroparesis.

      Before getting to the side effects there’s being able to afford the cost of Ozempic, which is averaging $300 per dose or $1200 a month. For many in black and brown communities those rates can be out of reach for their wallet and it’s highly unlikely to be covered by their medical insurer if they have one. Depending on the retailer, Ozempic has been priced from $730 to $1400 without insurance. Medicare and Medicaid cover Ozempic for prescription against type 2 diabetes but not for obesity and weight loss.

      The price tag is not the only barrier for people of color who may find themselves in desperate need of dropping pounds. “The rich people are buying it all,” says Maxey, who has devised a plan for his patients to make Ozempic more affordable. “I mean these people will buy six months’ worth and put in the refrigerator and they administer it themselves.”  

      Economic analysts contend that the cost will eventually be driven down as there are more than a dozen new obesity drugs in development. Once they enter the market, multiple options expect to make prices plummet, as has happened with other expensive drugs. “My prediction is that as competition increases, prices will decrease accordingly,” said Jalpa Doshi, professor of medicine and director of the economics evaluation unit at the University of Pennsylvania. “The drugs could add 50 percent to the country’s health care spending. And eventually you can see this ballooning completely out of control.”

      Hoping to cash in on the popular drugs’ success are producers of a fake form of Ozempic. In recent years, Novo Nordisk has been alerting consumers that a counterfeit version, which reportedly contained insulin glargine instead of semaglutide, was purchased in a retail pharmacy in the United States. In June of 2023, reporters found Ozempic for sale on Facebook, and authorities found fake Ozempic pens containing insulin in nine countries. 

      According to the FDA’s Adverse Events Reporting system, there have been 38 reports of counterfeit Ozempic since 2020, with the most recent reported on October 5, 2023. Of those 38 reports, 25 were listed as serious—with adverse events like miscarriage, loss of consciousness, acute kidney injury and pancreatitis—and two resulted in death.

      Novo Nordisk is advising retail pharmacies to always purchase semaglutide medications “through authorized distributors and reliable sources.” The company has created and shared a list of tips to help health care providers and patients recognize signs that a medication may be counterfeit when purchasing Ozempic or other injection products. Novo Nordisk would have consumers to know that real Ozempic pens don’t grow in size when setting the appropriate dose. They only show the intended dose once dialed up from zero, and they’re only available in 0.25 milligram or 0.5 milligram doses, 1 milligram doses or 2 milligram doses.

      Torbit has found a sense of security in allowing Dr. Maxey to not only safely prescribe Ozempic and monitor its impact, but to execute a balanced plan with steps that include a full physical and medical assessment, blood work evaluation, blood pressure monitoring, weight check ins, an eating plan and methods for managing dietary intake, curbing his appetite and cravings.

      “This requires self-discipline,” Torbit reasons. “Dr. Maxey is a renowned Black doctor here in the community and my trust of him made me think, this is something Black people can do too.”

      From coast to coast, Ozempic has become a hot topic and an even hotter commodity. But the question that looms is if the drug is that effective why wouldn’t every obese person be prescribed Ozempic? 

      “You have to look at weight loss as a multidisciplinary approach to an overarching lifestyle change,” McGowan says. “Taking medications like Ozempic or Wegovy are really to enhance the impact of diet and exercise. These weight loss drugs work best when combined with regular physical activity.”

5 Most Common Ozempic Side Effects

*Nausea

15.8% (.5m)/ 20.3% (1 mg)

*Vomiting

5% (.5mg)/9.2% (1 mg)

*Diarrhea

8.5% (.5mg)/8.8% (1mg)

*Abdominal Pain

7.3% (.5mg)/5.7% (1mg)

*Constipation

5% (.5mg)/3.1% (1mg)

Other not as common side effects can include: 

Pancreatitis

Recent studies indicate a potential link between semaglutide and pancreatitis (swelling of the pancreas), a serious condition that can be life-threatening. 

Gallstones

Gallbladder disease, including the occurrence of gallstones, is a possible but infrequent side effect.

Changes in vision

Ozempic can also cause temporary vision changes such as blurred vision, macular complications, or Diabetic retinopathy (damage to blood vessels in the eye). This side effect goes away after three to four months.

Kidney problems

Ozempic can have adverse effects for non-diabetic users, including kidney damage and failure as semaglutide is cleared out of your blood through the kidneys. In some cases, the gastrointestinal symptoms can potentially lead to acute kidney injury.

Gastroparesis (Stomach paralysis)

The medication’s delay of gastric emptying (passage of food through the stomach) can cause nausea and vomiting (Gastroparesis) and in some cases, extreme gastroparesis (stomach paralysis).

Ozempic Face

Certain individuals taking semaglutide may observe a reduction in fullness in their face. Patients may have more wrinkles around their temples, jawline, mouth, and under their eyes. Those who take the shot to lose 15-20 lbs will not see as many facial changes as those who lose more.

Hair Loss

Hair loss can be a potential side effect, but is typically temporary. As your body adapts to the medication, the hair loss should gradually subside.

Share the Post:

Related Posts