The western world seems to be on a never-ending hunt for the promise of the next weight loss miracle, and there’s a new kid on the block: celebrities and the rich and famous are flocking to their doctors to get their hands on Ozempic and Wegovy. Technically they’re medications for type 2 diabetes, but since they also work as appetite suppressants, they are being used off label as drugs to help with weight loss.
Sounds great in theory, right? If all you need is to have your appetite suppressed and these meds do it, sign me up, you might be thinking! But, nothing is quite so simple. There are side effects and risks to taking these medications long-term, which is what you need to do if you don’t want to gain the weight right back.
Semaglutide, the generic name of the medication, is a synthetic form of one of our naturally occurring hormones called glucagon-like peptide one, or GLP-1. Our bodies secrete this in our gut and gives us the sensation of fullness.
Semaglutide increases insulin output in the body, helping to reduce blood sugar. This causes the stomach to empty more slowly, reducing appetite.
What the Research Says
You might be thinking you’d take almost any side effect if it meant you could lose weight. But, hear us out. One team of endocrinologists at NYU Langone Health was tracking the calcitonin levels of a 69-year-old patient with uncontrolled diabetes and a high risk of thyroid cancer.
The patient was on insulin and Metformin, and another doctor has prescribed Liraglutide, a glucagon-like peptide receptor agonist (GLP-1 RA), much like Ozempic. This class of medications has shown a causal association with medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) in rodents. Increasing calcitonin levels are an indication for MTC in those animals. And though this patient’s diabetes was getting more under control, her calcitonin levels kept increasing, finally revealing a thyroid tumor, a medullary carcinoma, which needed to be excised.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident: Researchers have found a 58% higher risk of developing thyroid cancer in patients with type 2 diabetes who were taking this class of drugs for one to three years.
Other Side Effects
The most common potential side effects to Ozempic are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and constipation. The FDA recommends stopping Semaglutide injections and seeking medical help if they have a severe allergic reaction.
Ozempic can have more serious adverse reactions, including inflammation of the pancreas, changes in vision, and allergic reactions.
Wegovy’s list of potential side effects include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, stomach pain, headache, fatigue, dizziness, gas buildup, belching, and hypoglycemia. Gastroenteritis, an intestinal infection, and acid reflux/GERD are other things to look out for after starting Wegovy. If you have had gallbladder problems, it it not recommended. And it hasn’t been studied in people with a history of pancreatitis. Finally and possibly most serious, Wegovy harbors warnings for suicidal behavior or thinking.
Long-term safety is not available, as approval for its use for weight loss has only been approved since 2021. Finally, people will need to stay on the medication to continue receiving its benefits; when people go off the medication, gaining the weight back is almost inevitable.
If you’re considering this medication, we urge you to think about the pros and cons–and talk to one of our nutritionists about natural weight loss solutions that are sustainable.