Ozempic has been touted by many as a quick-fix weight-loss drug on social media like TikTok and Instagram, but now people are opening up about its negative side effects. Most recently, TikToker and model Remi Bader said her doctor recommended the drug Ozempic shortly after it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2020 to help with prediabetic insulin issues and weight gain. “They said I need this. And I had a lot of mixed feelings,” she shared on the Jan. 10 episode of “Not Skinny Not Fat” podcast. “Because then . . . a few months later, got into the bad bingeing and went off it.”
Ozempic (the brand name for semaglutide) is a medicine made for adults with type 2 diabetes. It’s used to improve people’s blood sugar levels, and according to the website, it lowers the risk of heart attack, stroke, or death in adults with type 2 diabetes and known heart disease.
TikTok, however, has been touting the drug as the “skinny pen.” With 2.2 million followers on TikTok, Bader has become known for her advocacy for size-inclusive fashion and is familiar with the cost of virality. “I’m like, almost annoyed that it’s this trendy thing now when I went on it for actual issues,” Bader vented to host Amanda Hirsch.
“I was like, ‘I bet the second I got off [Ozempic] I’m going to get starving again.’ I did, and my binging got so much worse.”
So how did Ozempic become known as a possible weight loss drug? Likely due to anecdotal experience shared online. Videos with the #ozempic have gained more than 400 million views on TikTok, many of which share positive experiences and claim quick results.
And while you may be thinking “yeah, no way” — the comments about the rapid weight loss results may actually be supported by facts. In a study where Ozempic was added to one or more diabetes pills, adults with type 2 diabetes weighing 197 pounds lost 12 pounds in one year on a 1 mg weekly dosage.
But here’s the thing: Ozempic is not a weight loss drug, nor is it even permitted to be used for weight loss in patients who don’t have type 2 diabetes in the US, the website states. And due to the heightened demand in addition to global supply issues, it’s led to a shortage of Ozempic for those who actually need it to manage their diabetes, per NBC News. It’s important to understand what exactly Ozempic is, who it can be prescribed to, and how it may (or may not) aid in weight loss.
For Bader, when she decided to stop taking the drug her binge eating disorder almost immediately returned. “I saw a doctor, and they were like, it’s 100 percent because I went on Ozempic,” she said. “It was making me think I wasn’t hungry for so long, I lost some weight. I didn’t want to be obsessed with being on it long-term. I was like, ‘I bet the second I got off, I’m going to get starving again.’ I did, and my binging got so much worse. So then I kind of blamed Ozempic. I gained double the weight back after.”
The rise in Ozempic’s popularity speaks to something greater than just weight loss, though. In a society that glamorizes diet culture — whether by labeling foods as “good” or “bad,” or by making “what I eat in a day” videos a viral TikTok trend — it’s easy to become obsessed with the food you’re eating and how it affects the number on the scale. The marketplace is already inundated with harmful diet pills, fasts, and cleanses, and yet it always seems like something new is being hyped up as a path to fast weight loss. There’s a reason why “quick weight loss” is searched more than 12,000 times per month on Google. Unfortunately, Ozempic is just the next “snake oil” marketed on TikTok as a quick-fix solution for regulating weight. But if it’s not managed by a medical professional, it can have real life consequences. Here’s everything you need to know about Ozempic.
What Is Ozempic and How Does Ozempic Work?
In simple terms, Ozempic is a medicine that increases the amount of insulin released into the body, says Bayo Curry-Winchell, MD, urgent care medical director and physician at Carbon Health and Saint Mary’s Hospital. Insulin, which is a hormone, is vital, and it “allows every meal, snack, or drink you consume to be converted to a form of energy your body needs daily to function,” she adds. So because people with type 2 diabetes often have low or nonexistent levels of insulin in their bloodstream, Ozempic will increase the amount of insulin, allowing the body to better process or break down food.
“This is an important step in controlling the amount of sugar in the blood (glucose), since, without [insulin], a person is left with excess blood sugar (hyperglycemia) that has nowhere to go, which ultimately would cause damage or harming to vital organs such as your brain, eyes, and kidneys,” says Dr. Curry-Winchell.
As for how it aids in weight loss: Daniel Boyer, MD, says that “Ozempic prevents and reduces calorie overdose, a major contributing factor to weight gain, by suppressing appetite and reducing the preference for foods high in fats.” Dr. Curry-Winchell further explains that Ozempic slows down the process of digesting a meal and targets an area in your brain that controls whether you decide to have more food or not.
While these effects can be seen as benefits for people with type 2 diabetes (since weight loss may help blood glucose levels decrease to the nondiabetic range, which could minimize or prevent future complications, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases), that doesn’t mean Ozempic can or should be used by anyone in order to lose weight. After all, weight alone is not a reliable indicator of health. Plenty of people who are considered overweight by current measures are metabolically healthy, and plenty of people who aren’t considered overweight are not, as demonstrated by research in JAMA Internal Medicine. Using prescription medication for weight loss when it’s not specifically directed by a doctor and it hasn’t been approved for such a use can be at best, unnecessary, and at worst, dangerous.
Who Qualifies for an Ozempic Prescription?
Despite what you may see in the TikTok comments, Ozempic has only been approved by the FDA for managing symptoms of type 2 diabetes in adults — not for any other conditions like PCOS, says Dr. Boyer. In fact, while the drug website mentions that the medication can help people “lose some weight,” it clarifies that “Ozempic is not for weight loss” and is instead “proven to lower blood sugar and A1C.” There’s isn’t sufficient research on whether Ozempic is safe or effective when used strictly for weight loss. But experts agree, it’s something that should only be taken when prescribed by a doctor who is familiar with your individualized health history and needs, especially considering the not-so-harmless potential side effects.
What Are Ozempic Side Effects?
While there is no specific data that dives into the side effects of taking Ozempic specifically for weight loss (because, again, it can’t be prescribed for weight loss alone at this point), Ozempic has been linked to some severe health conditions. This includes things like acute pancreatitis and, if injecting Ozempic, an increased risk of developing tumors in the thyroid gland, says Dr. Boyer. Dr. Curry-Winchell adds that diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and increased risks of developing hypoglycemia could also be side effects as well.
Should You Take Ozempic for Weight Loss?
If you have type 2 diabetes, Ozempic can be beneficial in aiding with weight loss, says Dr. Curry-Winchell. However, that’s not its main purpose, and Dr. Curry-Winchell clarifies that it should only be taken under the care of a healthcare provider to help monitor your response to the drug and act promptly if the drug needs to be discontinued.
Dr. Boyer emphasizes that people should avoid using a drug to treat a condition if it hasn’t yet been approved by the FDA to manage or treat that condition. “Using such drugs may lead to undisclosed health complications, including life-threatening situations,” adds Dr. Boyer.
The bottom line: Ozempic is far from a quick weight loss fix (there’s no such thing), although it could have benefits for people with type 2 diabetes. Ultimately, if you’re interested in learning more about Ozempic or receiving a prescription, it’s best to speak to a medical professional about your individual health history so they can assess what’s best for you.
Additional reporting by Melanie Whyte