It’s designed to help patients with diabetes, but Semaglutide – originally marketed as Ozempic — soon became known for its ability to help patients shed pounds — fast. That’s when the drug maker began offering a higher-dose version specifically for weight loss.
What happened next was a social-media storm that hasn’t let up.
Nurse practitioner and med spa owner Danielle Oyasu takes the drug herself.
“I think this whole class of medication is going to change the game for sure,” she said. “You can literally go about your daily activities just like normal and the weight will come off.”
At 50-years-old, she’s down 30 pounds on Semaglutide.
Dramatic pictures posted on social media show users showing off their slimmer figures. Celebrities started the trend and from Hollywood to neighborhoods across the country, word spread and prescriptions swelled. All the while users began to shrink.
“I was eating less I wasn’t thinking about food as much,” she said. “Also the hunger I experienced prior to taking the medication was an issue.”
The medication is a popular item at her suburban Park Ridge practice Beautifully New.
“It’s been so much so that we now have a waiting list of 50 people. So we can’t keep up with the demand,” she said.
Oyasu uses a special pharmacy to mix the doses patients inject once a week.
“It’s a compounded form of this medication which is perfectly legal and it’s made the medication more widely available,” she said.
The cost at Beautifully New is $599 a month.
Dr Lucie Bianchi stocks Wegovy at her clinic in northwest suburban Hoffman Estates, though she has fewer than 10 people on the more expensive, name-brand version of Semaglutide.
“My volume of patients requesting this has been high. However my population can’t afford $1500 a month for a medication,” she said.
Bianchi says certain women are good candidates.
“If I had a nickel for every time I heard this, ’I’m doing the exact same thing. I’m exercising. I’m eating right. Why do I have this big belly?’ And the answer is always menopause.”
She recommends the drug for peri-menopausal women and pre-diabetics of both sexes.
“Those are people who are already having a difficult time with weight loss and most of those subgroups are doing the right things but not really getting the results they are expecting,” she said.
Wegovy, or Semaglutide, mimics a natural hormone in the stomach. Instead of allowing food to pass quickly and spike blood sugar, the drug slows down digestion. The idea is to give the body more time to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal. The result is that people feel full faster.
“You get that cue a little faster so you might feel hunger, like, ‘Oh I’m going to eat these four pieces of pizza.’ And then you start to eat it and after a couple bites, you’ll be very full and you won’t be able to finish,” Bianchi said.
Dr Siri Greeley treats patients with diabetes at University of Chicago Medicine.
“All of us are addicted to carbohydrates to one extent or another,” Greely said. “And so these drugs have been really, really helpful in helping to block that addictive type of response and helping people to control impulses better. And to help appetite drive to be reduced.”
But supplies ran low in 2022.
“A lot of people who would have used Wegovy were using Ozempic, and that is what created the shortage,” Greely said.
The switch left some Type 2 diabetes patients in the dust.
“We are experiencing shortages. It’s a very real thing,” Greely said.
According to an update from Novo Nordisk, the maker of Ozempic and Wegovy, production has ramped up to meet the unprecedented demand.
Nick Draus started taking Semaglutide last July.
“My big problem is eating too much. When I eat I can’t stop,” he said. “When I was taking the shot if I ate like crap, I would feel sick, like nauseous.”
It’s a common side effect the 36-year-old gutted through to lose nearly 20 pounds.
“The medication has to be started out at a very low dose so you can tolerate it and not have intractable nausea and vomiting or belly pain,” Bianchi said.
Now Draus balances workouts and healthier eating habits since coming off the drug in January.
“I couldn’t figure out a way to lose the covid weight and so this helped to get to that point of I feel comfortable going back to the gym,” he said. “And my philosophy is now it’s on me to make those changes.”
“If you are not going to make any lifestyle modifications and you return to eating like you were before, you are likely going to gain weight back,” Oyasu said.
There are other downsides to the medication, including a risk for kidney injury or failure, so patients should stay well hydrated and be properly monitored.
“Anyone who wants to use the drug should have a full exam, should have some lab work done, so we know what the kidney function is like what the liver function is like,” Bianchi said.
People who should not take Wegovy or Semaglutide include those with a family history of certain endocrine system conditions – the medication can increase the risk for thyroid cancer.
“This is just the latest and greatest diet fad, and the reality is it does work but if you don’t change your habits, it’s not going to maintain. So just like anything else it could be a temporary loss,” Bianchi said.
Some people have reported gaining even more than they lost once they stopped the drugs, while others complain of new wrinkles thanks to the rapid weight loss.
As for cost, some insurance may cover weight loss medications. And there are other drugs in the pipeline that may be even more effective, including one that helps the body break down sugar and fat.