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Ozempic sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, it might be and here’s why

In his latest column Dr Ranj Singh discusses Ozempic

By Alastair James

Dr Ranj Singh
Dr Ranj Singh (Image: Provided)

“Babes, I’m on the Ozempic!”. This was what a friend exclaimed at a recent event when I told them how great they were looking. And the news was no surprise. Over the past year or so, more and more people have been hailing the seemingly miraculous weight-loss effects of Ozempic. It’s a Hollywood favourite, with everyone from Sharon Osbourne to Oprah Winfrey saying that they have used it, or similar medications, to achieve their slimmer figures. But every medicine has a side effect, so at what cost?

Ozempic (or semaglutide) belongs to a group of drugs called GLP-1 analogues. They mimic the actions of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1. They work by slowing the speed at which the stomach empties (so you stay fuller for longer), reducing appetite (so you eat less), and boosting the release of insulin (which helps to regulate blood sugar levels). This is why they were originally developed for people with type 2 diabetes. And then when patients started noticing that they were losing weight, their utility took a huge tangent.

Last year, a specific weight-loss form of Ozempic called Wegovy was made available on the NHS through weight-loss clinics. And there are similar products on the market too, including the older Saxenda (liraglutide) and the more recent Mounjaro (tirzepatide). Usually, these are given as injections, either every day or once a week. And when used in combination with healthier eating and exercise, you could lose up to 15 per cent of your body weight over a year.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Well, it might be and here’s why…

Firstly, these medications can only be taken for a maximum of two years because this is what they are licensed for based on clinical trials. After this, most people will regain the weight they lost, with some reporting a ‘rebound effect’ where they regain even more and quite quickly.

Secondly, side effects of nausea and reflux are quite common, while increasing numbers of people have reported excessive vomiting and diarrhoea. Some, including Stephen Fry, have had to stop taking the medication because the sickness got so bad. There are even reports of people being unable to eat normally afterwards because their stomachs haven’t recovered.

And then there are the other potential side effects: inflammation of the pancreas, hair loss, suicidal thoughts, stomach paralysis, and even thyroid cancer. Some of these are rare, but as it’s still early days, the true extent may not be clear yet.

Currently, these medications are prescription-only, and you must fulfil certain criteria (for example, have a high BMI) to get them. Getting them privately via online weight-loss services can be quite expensive. However, multiple investigations have shown that some people have misled online services to obtain the drugs, and there are criminals selling fake versions on platforms like TikTok. And let’s not forget, the potential for abuse by people with eating disorders is huge.

So, although medications like Ozempic might be game-changing, they are a long way from being the holy grail of weight loss. It might be worth waiting for better, less problematic versions to be developed before taking the risk

Lose the booze

Has your alcohol intake been playing on your mind? Most of us will be able to moderate our drinking, but for others it’s not that easy. So how do you know you might have an issue? Try the simple CAGE questionnaire:

C – Do you feel like you should Cut down?
A – do you get Angry or annoyed when people comment on your drinking?
G – do you feel Guilty about how much you drink?
E – do you need a drink first thing in the morning (Eye-opener)?

If you answer ‘yes’ to two or more of these, then you need to speak to someone and get support.

This feature first appeared in Attitude issue 359, available here and alongside 15 years of back issues on the free Attitude app.