Explained | What is Ozempic? Why is it trending on TikTok?

The drug is garnering a lot of attention as a way to lose weight on social media platforms such as TikTok

January 02, 2023 02:23 pm | Updated 08:09 pm IST

Ozempic, Wegovy and Rybelsus are the brandnames for an anti-diabetes medication called semaglutide which is primarily used to treat type-2 diabetes. Image for Representation.

Ozempic, Wegovy and Rybelsus are the brandnames for an anti-diabetes medication called semaglutide which is primarily used to treat type-2 diabetes. Image for Representation. | Photo Credit: S Kumar Santhosh

The story so far: The dramatic weight loss of Kim and Khloe Kardashian and other celebrities has been rumoured to be the work of an injectable drug, Ozempic, that’s been called ‘Hollywood’s worst kept secret’.

In a tweet, business magnate Elon Musk chalked up losing 13.6 kg (30lbs) to Ozempic/Wegovy, fasting and staying away from ‘tasty food’.

The drug is also garnering a lot of attention on social media platforms such as TikTok as an easy way to lose weight.

What is Ozempic?

Ozempic, Wegovy and Rybelsus are the brandnames for an anti-diabetes medication called semaglutide. Developed by Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, the drug is used to treat patients with type-2 diabetes.

Wegovy, which contains a higher-dose of semaglutide, was approved as an anti-obesity drug.

Semaglutide is a glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist (GLP-1 RA) drug that increases the secretion of insulin (which helps decrease blood sugar levels) after a meal while reducing the production of glucagon (which helps increase blood sugar levels).

Besides regulating glucose levels in the body, the drug also aids in weight loss, lowers the risk of hypoglycemia, and improves heart health and kidney function.

The drug was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2017.

According to a 2018 study, semaglutide specifically showed greater weight loss in subjects than other GLP-1 RA drugs. It roughly reduced body weight by 4kgs, as compared to other drugs which saw reductions of 1.4-2.5 kgs.

Expert opinion

Speaking to The Hindu, Dr Abhijit Chanda, Head of the Endocrinology Department at Medica Superspeciality Hospital, Kolkata, called semaglutide ”highly promising as an anti-diabetes medication.”

“Apart from regulating glucose, it also increases gastric emptying time, meaning food takes longer to pass through the gastrointestinal tract and it makes you feel full for a longer period of time,” he said.

The difference between Ozempic and Wegovy is the dosage, he added. “Ozempic is given at a lower dose. It starts with 0.25 mg per week and increases over a period of time. For Wegovy, you start with 0.2 mg per week and slowly increase it to 2.4 mg.”

However, he cautioned against the use of the drug by people with a history of pancreatitis or a family history of a type of thyroid cancer.

The TikTok trend

With over millions of views on TikTok, the drug has quickly become popular in the last year. The off-label use of Ozempic has caused a shortage worldwide, The Guardian reported.

In fact, the demand for both Ozempic and Wegovy skyrocketed in 2022, with Novo Nordisk recording a 29% increase in sales driven by GLP-1-based diabetes treatments, especially Ozempic, in the first nine months of 2022.

A recent report by Bloomberg noted that patients in Southern California who suffered from diabetes had trouble filling their prescription for Ozempic. Patients on similar type-2 drugs are also facing the same problem. A doctor in Sacramento has taken to prescribing a lower dose and suggested the patient take two injections per week rather than the regular one injection per week as a compromise is ‘better than nothing’.

According to him, patients with diabetes could be at a higher risk for heart disease, infections, disability or even death without their medication, the report said.

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