How Do Ozempic and Wegovy Lead To Weight Loss?
Losing weight is an important health goal for Sabrazsia Gardner, so she started working on Wegovy, an anti-obesity drug that contains the same drug as Ozempic.
Gardner, 33, said she wanted to stop the snacking and overeating that made her fat and eat less. But dieting didn't work, and she didn't want to go the route of weight loss surgery.
She received a prescription for Wegovy after discussing her options with her doctor during her annual physical. Now seven weeks into treatment, Gardner says she has “a small appetite” and is losing weight.
“I think about food differently … I don't think about snacking, and I feel full longer,” Gardner, a groomer who lives in Chandler, Arizona, tells TODAY.com.
“I don't even feel hungry. I eat because I should. You eat to live, not to eat to live.”
Gardner used to be able to eat 10 chicken wings at a time, but recently when she healed herself she barely ate three. She had stomach pains afterwards, one of the side effects of the drug she was taking. Gardner has also experienced fatigue, diarrhea and “very noticeable” nausea since starting Wegovy, for which she has been prescribed another drug.
Gardner says she sometimes doesn't feel hungry all day long, and she's no longer drawn to chips or chocolate — foods she used to crave and snack on. She has lost about 10 pounds so far.
What is the difference between Ozempic and Wegovy?
Wegovy contains semaglutide, the same drug found in Ozempic, a type 2 diabetes treatment with a well-known side effect: weight loss.
Wegovy is FDA-approved for weight loss, while Ozempic is not, although many people use it off-label for that purpose. Each drug was self-injected by the patient once a week.
The only difference between the two drugs is the pen design and dosage, says Dr. Louis Aronne, an obesity medicine physician and director of the Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Center for Integrative Weight Control.
Wegovy comes in five different dosage strengths, while Ozempic comes in four.
The maximum dose for Ozempic is 2 mg and the maximum dose for Wegovy is 2.4 mg, according to pharmaceutical giant Novo Nordisk, which makes the two drugs. The company says they are not interchangeable.
How Ozempic and Wegovy Cause Weight Loss?
Semaglutide is a synthetic version of a hormone called GLP-1 that the body releases into the gut when people eat, said Aronne, a scientific advisor to Novo Nordisk.
He notes that when the drug hits GLP-1 receptors in different parts of the brain, it triggers a response that stimulates nerves that mimic the effects of eating—people lose their appetite, and when they eat, they feel full faster.
“This hormone gets absorbed into the bloodstream, goes into the brain and tells the brain that you ate food. So people basically feel like they've eaten when they take it,” Aronne told TODAY.com.
“It's kind of like, if I make you Thanksgiving dinner, and then I treat you to another dinner. You're like, ‘There's no way I'm going to eat this. I just ate the whole dinner.'”
Another way the drug works is by slowing gastric emptying, which slows the absorption of calories and can lead to a feeling of fullness, Aronne said.
People who took Wegovy for 16 months in the largest placebo-controlled trial lost an average of 12 percent of their body weight compared with those who received a placebo, according to the FDA.
How do people feel about food while taking semaglutide?
A typical anecdote Aronne hears from her patients is: “I go to the same restaurant I always go to, I order the same dinner I always order, and when I'm halfway through, I can't go on . I feel full, bloated, and can’t eat.”
People with binge eating problems or food obsessions told him, “I have a lot of time in the day now because I don't keep thinking about my next meal.”
Some people also lose cravings. “Looking at a bag of Doritos is like looking at a pair of socks,” Shea Murray, who uses Ozempic, previously told TODAY.
Studies have shown that people must continue taking semaglutide for the drug to continue to work – otherwise, they regain two-thirds of the weight they lost. Doctors say it's not a short-term cosmetic treatment for people who want to lose 10 pounds so they can look good in their bathing suits, but a long-term treatment for those with obesity-related health problems.
Why do patients feel sick?
According to Novo Nordisk, the most common side effects of Ozempic and Wegovy include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain and constipation.
Some patients told NBC News that the side effects were so severe that they stopped taking the drugs or questioned whether they could take them long-term.
Novo Nordisk reported that in clinical trials, nearly 7 percent of patients treated with Wegovy permanently stopped taking it due to adverse effects, more than double the number who received a placebo.
Nausea, the most common side effect causing patients to stop treatment, could be caused by slowed gastric emptying or acid reflux, Aronne said. People respond to the drug differently, so they have to start with the lowest dose and work their way up to higher doses, he added.
Potentially serious side effects of Ozempic and Wegovy include pancreatitis, gallbladder problems and kidney problems, according to the manufacturer.
Both drugs also come with a warning that semaglutide can cause thyroid C-cell tumors in rodents, although it's unclear whether this would happen in humans.
Dr. Robert Lustig, a neuroendocrinologist and professor emeritus of pediatrics at UCSF, previously told TODAY.com that he is “very, very concerned” about people who may be taking Wegovy for years or their lives. He's not against the drug, but calls it a Band-Aid that doesn't address the root of the obesity problem.
Dr. Zhaoping Li, professor of medicine and director of the Division of Clinical Nutrition at UCLA, said more long-term data on Wegovy are needed.
But other doctors have previously told TODAY.com that they are willing to prescribe the drug long-term. Aronne calls this a “golden age for treating obesity,” as more effective and safe drugs become available, he said.
Sabrazsia Gardner, a woman who started taking Wegovy in January, said she wanted to keep taking it for as long as possible and hope to lose 120 pounds.
“I can live with the nausea. It's annoying, but it's okay. If it makes me healthier, I think I'll be fine,” she says.