Ozempic: Hollywood’s latest weight-loss craze
The medication, intended for type 2 diabetics, has been called “Hollywood’s worst kept secret”. With countless alleged celeb users under the spotlight, we called in a bonafide professor to weigh in.
Semaglutide is a big trend right now.
On TikTok, thousands of people are talking about the diabetes drug-turned-fad diet jab sold under brand names Ozempic and Wegovy. Last month, chief attention-seeker and general vibe hoover Elon Musk told his 116 million Twitter followers that it helped him lose 13kg. Rumours that Kim Kardashian used it as lubricant, to contort her butt into that Marilyn Monroe dress at the 2022 Met Gala, are being hurled around the internet like baggage handlers loading an aeroplane.
When used as a diabetes treatment, the drug mimics a hormone in the body regulating a person’s blood sugar levels and appetite. “Ozempic (aka Semaglutide) is a drug licenced for the treatment of type 2 diabetes to reduce blood glucose levels, reduce risk of major cardiovascular events and supports weight loss,” Professor Paul Gately, Professor of Exercise and Obesity at Leeds Beckett University, tells THE FACE.
It’s been on the market for treatment of diabetes since 2017. But at some point recently, patients realised that it was also effective as a general weight loss tool.
“Ozempic is being used for the treatment of obesity but is currently off licence,” says Prof Gately, meaning that the medicine is being used in a way other than it was originally intended. But later this year, Ozempic will be licensed, under the brand name Wegovy, for the treatment of obesity.
It’s no surprise that some are using Ozempic solely for cosmetic purposes. It has been described by Variety as “Hollywood’s worst kept secret” and by the Daily Mail as a “weight loss wonder drug loved by Hollywood stars”.
On TikTok, the hashtag #ozempic has 523.9 million views at the time of writing. But unsurprisingly, this level of hype – not to mention this not-as-its-manufacturers intended usage – has implications. Last May, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said that people on TikTok documenting their weight loss has “triggered a surge in demand and contributed to an ongoing worldwide shortage” of the drug.
“This means there is less of this drug available for the treatment of type 2 diabetes and obesity, which is how it should be correctly used,” Prof Gately warns. “This will have a negative impact on individuals living with these chronic conditions.”
Despite the concerns regarding global supply, Ozempic is about to hit the UK in a big way; it’s already available at online private clinics. Meaning: around £150 will secure you the insulin-style, easily injectable pens, which can be used weekly. Boots Online Pharmacy have confirmed that they will be stocking it in spring, describing it as a “weight loss treatment” rather than a treatment for obesity.
Reports are also surfacing that suggest people are sourcing “bootleg” versions of the drug from questionable sources, such as random websites in Thailand. But whatever its provenance, taking Ozempic if you’re not suffering from obesity might not be a great idea, even if you are getting what you think you are. “It is unlikely they [the user] will get any lifestyle support,” says Prof Gately, referring to the tailored lifestyle advice that people using Ozempic receive in a medical setting. Not having this, he argues, can “increase their risk of having unpleasant side effects”.
Those side effects can include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain and constipation. But while these are likely to be “mild and often manageable” through lifestyle change, Prof Gately also highlights other issues.
“[It] may be accessible to individuals with a healthy BMI [Body Mass Index], who don’t need to lose weight [ – ] then it could be used by people with potential eating disorders. If individuals buy it [illegally] then they may not be taking the correct dose and weight loss will only be temporary. Plus, they may not get the correct advice to know how to manage any serious side effects.” Less common, more serious potential side effects include pancreatitis, kidney failure and gallbladder problems.
If you’re injecting Ozempic cosmetically, it’s unlikely to be sustainable in the long term. “All the evidence shows that when people stop taking it, their weight largely regains,” Prof Gately concludes. “So the additional support to enable lifelong change is critical.” So, in sum: if you’re just looking to hack your metabolism, maybe you shouldn’t use a drug that’s essential for people with diabetes and obesity. If you are a cosmetic user of Ozempic, you should ease off until the global supply settles to accommodate the trends that follow Kim Kardashian around like an annoying, clingy toddler.