Ozempic: Are Weight Loss Injections Safe?

What are Weight Loss Injections?

In recent weeks, the news has been filled with articles regarding semaglutide – perhaps better known under the brand names it’s sold under, of Ozempic, Wegovy and Rybelsus. But are weight loss injections safe for us to use?

Semaglutide has previously been used as a treatment for type 2 diabetes, but due to the rise of it being used as a weight loss drug in the public eye, its uses are becoming more widespread, and the drug is gradually becoming more popular.

But what is it, what does it do, and should you use it? We’ve answered all these questions below.

What are they?

Semaglutide is typically prescribed to help manage glucose levels in type 2 diabetics. It is a GLP-1 analogue – also known as an incretin mimetic, which works by increasing incretins – gut-derived peptide hormones that are secreted after eating. These hormones help increase insulin production when required and reduce the amount of glucose being produced by the liver when it is not required.

It’s normally administered as a once-weekly injection to manage blood glucose levels and HbA1c in type 2 diabetics.

What are the side effects?

Two of the primary side effects of semaglutide are:

  • Reducing your appetite, so you eat less 
  • Slowing down the movement and digestion of food in your gut meaning you stay full for longer

But additional side effects also include:

  • Constipation (common)
  • Diarrhoea (common)
  • Nausea (common)
  • Vomiting (common)
  • Altered taste (less common)
  • Acute pancreatitis (less common)

Are weight loss injections safe and a good option to use?

NICE says semaglutide could help people reduce their weight by over 10% if implemented alongside nutrition and lifestyle changes and with the help of a multidisciplinary team. However, sustainable weight loss is generally achieved through a balanced, calorie-controlled diet, regular physical activity, and adopting healthy lifestyle habits. 

The efficacy and safety of weight loss injections can vary, and the scientific evidence supporting their use is limited. While some people may experience positive effects, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before considering weight loss injections. They can assess your individual needs, and medical history, and provide guidance on the most appropriate weight loss strategies for you.

Additionally, although your weight may be reduced, this does not necessarily mean that your health will benefit. If your lifestyle remains the exact same as before, there is a chance that the weight will be gained back, as this is not a long-term, sustainable change to your lifestyle. 

However, the intention behind its use is important. While it is likely not the most reasonable avenue for healthy individuals looking to lose a small amount of weight, it may be beneficial in kick-starting weight loss for those who are less healthy, and looking to lose weight ahead of a surgery, for example. This may be an effective way of reducing weight without the need for an ultra-low calorie diet leading up to the surgery itself, combined with general education on nutrition and health overall. A potentially more sustainable and longer-term tool to help educate compared to a short-term, very extreme fast.

It’s also important to note the side effects that occur with using Ozempic. It can cause a lot of gastrointestinal upset – nausea and vomiting are particularly common during the early phase of taking the drug. On the other hand, others experience such intense feelings of fullness that it can lead to food repulsion, making eating a chore rather than something that’s pleasurable. There’s also what’s known as ‘Ozempic Face’ – a colloquial term given to the gaunt face in those that have used the drug, typically making people appear older. 

Once off the drug, whenever the course is over (this may be months or years), one’s hunger will return rapidly – your body’s attempt to restore what has been lost over the treatment period. This, combined with other factors, such as a reduced metabolic rate, and reduced energy requirement, primes the body for regaining the weight lost.

Ultimately, the drug is effective in losing the weight in the first place, but keeping the weight off is the more challenging part – as most people tend to find regardless of weight loss method. Its use needs to be combined with adjustments to one’s nutrition and lifestyle, to implement a strategy to help the individual keep the weight off once they have stopped using the drug.

While the injections may pose some benefits, the cost of food overall, and lack of education on nutrition and health in general, are much greater barriers that need to be overcome by the government (read our previous post covering this here), before enforcing an intermediate strategy that will impact a very small percentage of the population who are unlikely to be the demographic that needs help in the first place. 

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Meghan Foulsham

Published by Meghan Foulsham

Meghan's fascination with metabolism and the effect of diet on the body covered in her BSc Biochemistry, paired with being a passionate mental health advocate, led her to a Master's degree in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition. Using this, Meghan works with clients to help them reach their goals in the most sustainable way, without sacrificing or risking their mental health.

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