We’ve all seen ads asking if a particular prescription medication is “right for you.” And with the growing popularity of semaglutides, there are different answers to that question.
Ozempic, Wegovy and Rybelsus are semaglutides, meaning that they mimic glucagon-like Peptide 1 (GLP-1), a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar and appetite. For those reasons, it is ideal for patients who:
- Have Type 2 diabetes
- Have a body-mass index (BMI) of over 30 (18.5 to 24.9 is considered healthy)
- Have a BMI of over 27 as well as another weight-related medical condition, including osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, coronary artery disease, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and gastroesophageal reflux disease.
The caveat on the third point is important to keep in mind. These medications are not ideal for people looking to simply lose weight but who do not have an underlying medical condition.
The ads for Ozempic in particular, celebrity endorsements and TikTok videos have all played a part in popularizing the medication – so much so that there has been a shortage of the drug in the U.S. for several months; in fact, so many Americans have turned to Canada to get Ozempic that the government of British Columbia plans to curtail such sales.
According to British Columbia, 15% (15,798) of Ozempic doses in the province were sold to U.S. residents in January and February 2023. “The purpose of procuring the drug Ozempic for B.C. is not to turn around and export it to Americans,” said Minister of Health Adrian Dix. “It is to make sure patients in B.C. and Canada requiring the drug to treat their Type 2 diabetes can continue to access it.”
Meanwhile, in early March, the hashtag #Ozempic had over 600 million views on TikTok, according to other reports.
But Is It Effective?
There are also negative views coming out about the semaglutides, with various people taking to the internet to question – or outright deny – its effectiveness. Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, gallstones, inflammation of the pancreas, and worsening of diabetes-related retinopathy, which can present as blurred vision, shapes floating in our field of vision, or even sudden blindness.
Also worth considering is data showing that semaglutides can raise the risk of hypoglycemia if taken in conjunction with insulin or other diabetes drugs; and cause such allergic reactions as rashes, difficulty breathing or swallowing, and/or swelling of the face, hands, mouth or throat.
While some short-term side effects may wear off for some patients over time, it is important to note that there is not enough data available on the potential long-term effects of semaglutides. Also keep in mind that those with a personal or family history of thyroid cancer should take extra care by consulting with their physician before trying such medications.
As with any prescription, its consumption should go hand-in-hand with a healthy diet and exercise, which by themselves can help prevent developing Type 2 diabetes and/or obesity. Again, check with your physician to determine if a semaglutide is right for you.
Dr. Mythili Murthy is a board-certified internist and endocrinologist at WPHPA of Harrison. For an appointment, call 914-835-0073.