‘Ozempic’ for Weight Loss: Is It Safe For Boomers?

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If you’re an Aussie boomer carrying a few extra kilos, the new weight-loss wonder drug, Ozempic, might seem like just the ticket: take a pill and lose weight. I went digging and found some unpleasant surprises, not just for boomers.
(Image from ‘Insider’: Bettmann/Contributor/John Shearer/Getty Images.)

Main Points

  • Ozempic was designed to treat diabetes; weight loss was an unexpected benefit;
  • Demand for Ozempic for weight loss has caused a global shortage for diabetics;
  • The side effects of Ozempic cause the weight loss as much as the drug’s intended actions;
  • Losing weight stops as soon as the drug’s use is discontinued;
  • The long term safety of taking Ozempic and its ilk is not yet known;
  • There are safer, less extreme ways for boomers to lose and keep off weight.

(If you enjoy your food and maybe a glass of wine, and the thought of feeling too ill to eat doesn’t appeal, check out the anti-diet for boomers: MMM! Lose Weight The Food Lover’s Way‘.)

Big Problem, Big Opportunity

While obesity is a huge and growing problem, it’s an enormous opportunity for drug makers.

After many failures, a new ‘miracle weight-loss drug’ called semaglutide (generic name*) has arrived, with demand fueled by rumours that celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Elon Musk have used it. (In Kardashian’s case, apparently, it was to fit into that Marilyn Monroe ‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’ dress. In my opinion, Kardashian isn’t in the same class (see above), but I’m a boomer.)

For Diabetes and Weight Loss

Semaglutide is made by Danish company Novo Nordisk and has a confusing array of *brand names.

Ozempic is the name on everyone’s lips, although that’s the injectable version for diabetes, not weight loss. The injectable version for weight loss is Wegovy and the pill version for diabetes is Rybelsus. (You can see why people are using the name Ozempic.)

The huge demand for semaglutide for weight loss has created a global crisis for diabetics who can’t get their prescriptions filled. Many of the weight-loss lot aren’t even obese, we’re told; they just want a quick fix before an event, like Kardashian. In Australia, Eucalyptus, a tele-health startup backed by Woolworths and tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, came under the TGA’s gaze for direct advertising to consumers about its weight loss powers. Meanwhile, Ozempic (semaglutide) is taking China by storm, so the shortage for diabetics is going to get a lot worse.

Many people use semaglutide off-label to help manage weight.The demand has become so high, that now there is a shortage for people who need this medication to help manage their diabetes.

Dr Vijaya Surampudi, Clinical Nutritionist

Semaglutide is the second weight loss drug from Novo Nordisk after Saxenda (generic name liraglutide) was given FDA approval in 2014. This drug is still around but semaglutide has eclipsed its efficacy; that is, it loses much more weight, more quickly.

How Does It Work?

Ozempic easy weight loss for boomers - the endocrine system
The endocrine system

Semaglutide works in several ways: it mimics Glucagon-Like-Peptide-1 (GLP-1), by boosting release of insulin, slowing absorption of glucose and restricting glucose production. All up, excess glucose – the main cause of diabetes – is kept in check.

(Semaglutide) may affect how you feel  about different foods, which may explain how the drug helps curb emotional eating and other behaviours that contribute to weight gain.

Novo Nordisk

Semaglutide also tells your brain that you’re full before you are, and slows down digestion by keeping food in your stomach for longer. The drug maker says that it ‘may affect how you feel  about different foods, which may explain how the drug helps curb emotional eating and other behaviours that contribute to weight gain.’ As we’ll see, this is quite an understatement.

Any side effects?  

The endocrine (hormone) system is a complex beast that controls vital functions in our bodies and brains, so any drug that manipulates these can have unpredictable effects.

The Mayo Clinic gives a list of side effects as long as your arm, with the most common being nausea, vomiting, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, gallstones, heartburn and hair loss. 

Ozempic easy weight loss for boomers- Ozempic face
‘Ozempic face’
Image from Metro: Getty Images

More serious side effects include hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), sweating. weakness, confusion, pancreatitis, severe stomach pain, diabetic retinopathy, blurred vision, kidney problems, thyroid cancer and more.

These effects aren’t uncommon: in the trial that led to the drug’s approval, nearly 90% of the test group had adverse effects, among them nausea (44%), diarrhoea (32%) and vomiting 25%. All up, 74% reported gastrointestinal disorders. If you felt ill most of the time, it certainly would affect how you felt about food. No wonder people lost weight.  

Checking comments on drugs.com, it’s clear that many obese people want to lose weight so badly that they’ll put up with the downsides. And there are more, like ‘Ozempic Butt’ and ‘Ozempic Face. Consider this, when people become obese, their faces get stretched out into plump plums; that’s why many overweight people have such youthful, wrinkle-free faces. If they lose a lot of weight quickly, their faces become hollowed out into saggy prunes.

If that’s what happens to young people, I can’t imagine this drug being the fountain of youth for boomers.

By the way, semaglutide is about to get a rival which shifts even more weight. Eli Lilly has launched Tirzepatide (brand name Mounjaro) to treat type 2 diabetes, reporting that diabetics lost 15 to 24 kilograms over 17 months. (Semaglutide figures are just over 12 kilos in six months; about the same.) Eli Lilly expects FDA accelerated approval for the drug for weight loss in 2023. I guess that means ‘Mounjaro Face and Butt’ might be next.

Drugwatch has more detail on Ozempic and how it, and others of the same drug class, work. That page links to details of several current lawsuits against Ozempic and others, for serious side effects, apparently not mentioned by the makers.    

Losing More Than Fat

The FDA approved the drug in conjunction with a calorie-restricted diet and an exercise program.

This looks like window dressing with politically correct flower boxes, since no one will be able to check compliance. Novo Nordisk has gone further and contracted a workout coach, a chef and a motivator.

Ozempic Easy Weight Loss for Boomers Support Team
Novo Nordisk‘s handy support team

Muscle loss is common among takers of semaglutide, which suggests that most aren’t taking advantage of Novo Nordisk’s handy support team of experts. If people stay on bad food, do no exercise and just take the drug to lose weight, they’re going to be even more unhealthy than before, and feeling sick, to boot.  

They’ve (semaglutide users) lost muscle mass at a rate that alarms me.

Dr Peter Attia, Longevity Specialist

Some muscle loss is normal when going on a weight loss diet, but people on semaglutide ‘have lost muscle mass at a rate that alarms me’ says longevity specialist Peter Attia, who uses DEXA scans to determine the body composition of his patients.

Endocrinologist Florence Comite is not surprised: ‘You are not eating enough (on semaglutide), you are not taking on enough proteins, you are feeling nauseous, so you are eating comfort foods like mashed potato or rice but too little protein.’

As one user put it: ‘Ozempic (semaglutide) is not for wimps. But if you really want to lose weight, this is the way to go. This is like bariatric surgery in a small needle. User feedback, drugs.com.

(On semaglutide) you are not eating enough, you are not taking on enough proteins, you are feeling nauseous, so you are eating comfort foods like mashed potato or rice but too little protein.

Dr Florence Comite, Endocrinologist

At our boomer ages, we need strong muscles to keep us active so we need more, not less, protein. The idea of letting our precious muscles waste away in order to lose weight, doesn’t make much sense to me.

A Drug For Life

The prognosis is poor for people taking semaglutide for weight loss. They’re likely hooked on cheap, low quality, foods and, taking the drug, they don’t have to give them up; they just might eat less of them.

It looks like fast food and drug companies are both doing well out of this: fast food creates the problem by making people fat with too much cheap, industrial food, and drugs help them lose weight without cutting out the bad food. Both are making people sicker – and they’ll stay on the drug for life, unless they change the way they live.

There’s a sting in the tail, too: the weight comes back with a vengeance when you stop taking the drug. The drug maker’s response is predictable: ‘Obesity is a chronic disease that requires long-term management, much like high blood pressure or high cholesterol …’ Yes, of course.

Obesity is a chronic disease that requires long-term management, much like high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Novo Nordisk

For many boomers, we’re already taking more drugs than we should and, likely, we need to cut back. The last thing we need is another drug with a host of unpleasant side effects, that we might have to take for life, surely?

What about safety?

So far, there is no long-term safety data on semaglutide, so the people clammering to get hold of the drug have volunteered to be guinea pigs, even if they don’t know it.

The drug’s advocates argue that the drug has been used by diabetics since 2017, but the dose for weight loss is 2.4 times that dose. That right 240%; isn’t that a little surprising?

I’m reminded of the words of Paracelsus, the German-Swiss physician/alchemist who established the role of chemistry in medicine in the 15th century: ‘All things are poison and nothing is without poison. Solely the dose determines that a thing is not a poison.’

All things are poison and nothing is without poison. Solely the dose determines that a thing is not a poison.

Paracelsus

I think we should keep an eye on what happens with semaglutide, once there is a decade or so of patient data.

What about pleasure?

Nowhere in the semaglutide saga is there any mention of pleasure.

People on the drug are feeling sick, avoiding food because they’re feeling sick and afraid to look in the mirror because of growing wrinkles. They’ll be condemned to this for life, too, unless they make radical lifestyle changes. Not much pleasure there.

I can’t get my head around this.

For me, food has always been about pleasure, admittedly a rare one when I was growing up in post-war Germany. These days, eating is only about pleasure for me, oh and about taste, too. (I have to say, Tracey’s attitude to food used to be nothing like mine. For her, food was to be endured. If she could have avoided it altogether, she would have. I’m glad I didn’t know her then.)

For us boomers, pleasure has to be part of this part of our lives, surely?

That’s why we devised the MMM! Anti-diet. It’s a way to lose weight without dieting, by eating foods that are naturally satisfying and self-limiting – and seriously scrumptious. That said, it wasn’t designed at all, at first. It was just how we wanted to eat; weight loss was an unexpected side effect, which delighted Tracey no end.

We’ve now refined our way into the MMM! Anti-diet, but it’s not for morbidly obese people who need to lose 15-24 kilos. It’s for boomers like us who want to lose and keep off say 5-10 kilos, who want to stay healthy and avoid chronic disease – and enjoy gourmet foods, including a glass of wine.

If that sounds like you, click below to find out more about the MMM! Anti-diet.

Lose Weight

MMM! LOSE WEIGHT THE FOOD LOVER’S WAY

Discover The Muscles & Marbles Mediterranean Anti-diet

Kim Brebach

Kim Brebach

Hi, I’m Kim Brebach, boomer, information researcher, technical writer and Joiner of Dots at M&M. In my spare time, I review wines and love to cook.

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