The drug semaglutide, marketed under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy, has been approved in many countries for weight loss in people who are obese or overweight, and for people with type 2 diabetes. Semaglutide mimics the actions of a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which slows stomach emptying, reduces appetite, and boosts insulin release to regulate blood sugar levels. GLP-1 analogues have been used for over a decade to help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar and experience modest weight loss. New formulations of the drug are more potent and easier to use, with Wegovy being a once-weekly injection and Ozempic being used at a maximum dose of 2 milligrams for type 2 diabetes.
Wegovy has been approved for weight loss in several countries, including the US and Canada, while Ozempic has been available for type 2 diabetes since 2019. The drugs are very effective, leading to a reduction in body weight of about 15% over a year when combined with exercise and healthy eating. However, some users have experienced side effects such as nausea, constipation, and diarrhea, and hair loss has been reported by some semaglutide users. The longest trial of Wegovy lasted two years and found that people’s weight plateaued in the second year. If people stop taking the drug, they generally regain the lost weight.
Despite the potential side effects and temporary nature of the weight loss, doctors are considering semaglutide a paradigm shift in the field of obesity management. The weight loss is only sustained for as long as the drug is taken because the physiological processes that are trying to return the body to its original weight kick in as soon as the drug is stopped. However, Ozempic can be prescribed long-term for type 2 diabetes because the condition is usually lifelong.