Ozempic is an injectable drug developed for diabetes management. While it’s not intended for weight loss, some people have begun using it for this purpose. We’ve got the deets on how it works and whether it’s safe for weight loss.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could simply take medication and immediately lose weight? Modern technology might not be quite there, but the newer-to-market prescription drug Ozempic offers promise for reduced cravings, minimal side effects, and pounds that fall away at a slow-and-steady rate.
If you’ve heard the buzz about Ozempic, you may be wondering if this new injectable is just another fad — or whether it could be the meaningful solution you’ve sought to the perennial struggle of losing weight.
We’ve got good news and bad news. Yes, Ozempic has evidence-based weight loss results. But it’s not for everyone — and your doctor might not even prescribe it as a weight loss aid, since it’s technically not intended for this purpose.
Here’s everything you need to know about Ozempic for weight loss.
The difference, however, is that Ozempic was first developed not specifically to help people drop pounds, but to help those with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar. (The other difference, as we’ll explain shortly, is that Ozempic actually has research backing its effectiveness.)
Pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk first formulated Ozempic, also known by its generic name semaglutide, in 2012. The idea was that this medication would gradually lower hemoglobin A1C, the marker that indicates long-term blood sugar levels.
And, in fact, this hope came to fruition! According to 2021 research on 14 clinical trials, semaglutide drugs are effective at reducing A1C. Because Ozempic stimulates the pancreas to create insulin, it lowers glucose levels both after a meal and when fasting. Since its FDA approval in 2017, Ozempic has been prescribed for blood sugar management in people with type 2 diabetes.
Thing is, though, as research began to show that Ozempic could work to lower A1C, it also showed that the drug could bring down another important number: the one on the scale.
Though Ozempic is technically intended for use in people with type 2 diabetes, turns out, it has the happy side effect of also helping the body remove excess pounds.
“Ozempic is considered a GLP-1 agonist, where it mimics a hormone called GLP-1,” explains dietitian and weight loss expert Melissa Mitri, MS, RDN. “This hormone increases insulin secretion from the pancreas and lowers blood sugar levels. Because of this, GLP-1 agonists like Ozempic can reduce cravings, slow digestion, and stimulate satiety.”
Research bears this out. A 2017 study in Diabetes, Obesity & Metabolism (which, for the record, was sponsored by Novo Nordisk) found that people receiving Ozempic injections once a week for 12 weeks consumed 24 percent fewer calories. And this was even when they were allowed to eat whatever they wanted. They also had fewer cravings and a lower preference for high-fat foods.
A much larger 2019 study in the New England Journal of Medicine (also sponsored by Novo Nordisk) revealed that when people took Ozempic over 68 weeks, they lost an average of 14.9 percent of their body weight.
Mitri says she has witnessed these results personally.
“As a registered dietitian, I have seen the effects of Ozempic with my clients first-hand,” she says. A few of my clients who have taken Ozempic say they feel full and more easily satisfied with smaller portions than they’re typically used to.”
Is Ozempic insulin?
Insulin is a hormone your pancreas produces to regulate the amount of sugar in your blood. If you have type 2 diabetes, your body can’t use insulin properly, leading to a condition called insulin resistance.
Ozempic is not insulin, but it does help the pancreas produce more insulin. This has the effect of lowering your blood sugar when it gets too high.
Fortunately, according to Forbes Health, Ozempic rarely causes blood sugar to get too low — so, unlike some other diabetes medications, you may be less likely to experience hypoglycemia while taking it. (It’s worth noting, though, that hypoglycemia is still considered a potential side effect.)
The FDA’s approval of Ozempic for use in treating type 2 diabetes is a strong indicator of its safety for this purpose — but that doesn’t mean the drug won’t have any side effects. These range from minor to potentially severe. (We’ve got a list of them below.)
“Since Ozempic is still a fairly new approved drug, its safety and effectiveness long-term are not 100% known,” says Mitri.
She points out that the longest study on Ozempic lasted a little over a year, and participants had positive weight loss results.
“However, gastrointestinal side effects were common and occurred in over half of the study participants, so this should be kept in mind,” she adds.
Some people may receive an Ozempic prescription from their doctor for weight loss (not diabetes), but this is considered an off-label use. Off-label prescribing is legal, but it’s important to discuss with your healthcare provider whether Ozempic is a good choice for you for weight loss alone or to treat diabetes and obesity together.
Ozempic also has a sister medication called Wegovy, which is FDA-approved for weight loss alone. If dropping pounds is your main goal, your doctor may prefer to prescribe this semaglutide instead of Ozempic.
Alas, no drug is perfect, and Ozempic’s promising results for diabetes management and weight loss may come at a price. Some potential mild side effects include:
- Stomach pain
- Taste changes
- Gas, belching, or flatulence
- FatigueThese Easy Potato Pancakes Are the Cure for Weeknight Cooking Fatigue
- Discomfort or redness at the injection site
For some people, using Ozempic may cause more serious side effects, such as:
- Thyroid tumors or cancer (indicated by a lump in the neck or throat, hoarseness, trouble swallowing, or shortness of breath)
- Diabetic retinopathy
- Kidney problems
- Gallbladder disease
Ozempic isn’t recommended for people who:
- Have a family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma
- Have a family history of multiple endocrine neoplasia syndrome (MEN 2)
- Are allergic to any of its ingredients
- Have problems with their pancreas or kidneys
- Are pregnant or plan to become pregnant
- Are breastfeeding
Your doctor may also not recommend Ozempic if you’re not diabetic or have no insulin resistance.
Hold it right there! Before you toss out your Ozempic injectable pens, it’s critical to consult with your healthcare provider. They can help you make the transition in a healthy way.
As for what may happen if you do ditch the semaglutide, the newness of this drug means that there are some unknowns. “More studies on Ozempic are needed before we can determine what may happen to your weight loss progress if you come off of it,” Mitri says.
That said, many people do report that discontinuing Ozempic leads to increased feelings of hunger, and — ultimately — regaining weight.
It’s not necessarily a matter of willpower, either. Studies show that weight regains after significant weight loss is driven by potent biological mechanisms that can stimulate gut hormones and reduce how many calories the body burns.
That’s not to say, though, that going off Ozempic is a one-way ticket to a reunion with your lost pounds. “In order to reduce the likelihood of gaining weight back, I recommend continuing to prioritize a healthy diet, consistent exercise, and consulting with a registered dietitian for guidance,” says Mitri.
And on the bright side, if you do go off of Ozempic with your doc’s approval, you’ll likely stop experiencing any side effects it caused.
Every insurance plan is different, but it’s possible your plan might cover Ozempic, especially if your doctor is prescribing it primarily for type 2 diabetes management. Many Medicare part D plans, for example, provide coverage for the drug.
When prescribed only as a means of achieving weight loss, though, it’s less likely your insurance will approve Ozempic. (Similarly, Wegovy is not usually covered by insurance.)
Novo Nordisk’s consumer website, Novocare, offers a tool that allows you to calculate how much you’ll pay for Ozempic, based on your insurance, dosage, and provider.
Without insurance, you can expect to pay a pretty penny for this drug. The cost for a single dose at 0.25, 0.5, 1, or 2 milligrams is $892.06. You can always talk to your pharmacy about coupons or cash payment options that might reduce the cost.
Ozempic can be an effective way to manage blood sugar while enjoying the side effect of weight loss — but it’s not necessarily a standalone weight loss drug. And since it can be hella expensive without insurance, you may have trouble justifying its cost.
Whenever possible, see how far lifestyle interventions like exercise and a healthy diet take you for weight loss. If these tools aren’t giving you the results you’re looking for, consider a chat with your doctor about Ozempic or other prescription aids. Also, keep in mind that you might regain the weight you lost if discontinued.
Ozempic has not been approved for weight loss. However, its sister drug, Wegovy, has received FDA approval for chronic weight management in adults with overweight and obesity.