The use of injectable drugs like Ozempic for weight loss has become the hottest healthcare trend in decades. Celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Mindy Kaling and Elon Muskare are said to be using them to keep fit. An expert with celebrity clients said FIRSTThey are All on it. But is this approach right for most women over 50?
What is Ozempic?
This drug, known generically as semaglutide, was originally approved by the FDA as a diabetes drug (1 milligram dose) for its ability to stabilize blood sugar. But research showed it had an incredible side benefit: helping users lose a significant amount of weight, on par with the results seen with gastric sleeve surgery. And they found that the higher the dose, the greater the weight loss. Search in The New England Journal of MedicineWe found that adults lost 489% more weight on the drug than those on a placebo. For someone weighing 220lbs, that’s the difference of losing 34lbs, versus just 6lbs. Then the FDA approved semaglutide under a second brand name (and a higher dose of 2.4mg) called Wegovy for weight loss. When supply chain disruptions impacted the availability of Wegovys, people started using Ozempic off-label for weight.
How does Ozempic work?
These shots, injected into belly fat, are called GLP-1 stimulant drugs because they mimic naturally occurring glucagon-like peptides (or hormones) to reduce appetite and slow stomach emptying, so we feel full longer . Katrina Ubell, MD, host of the Weight Loss for Busy Physicians podcast, likes what she has heard from her medical clients. Semaglutide eliminated cravings enough that women could actually do the job they were trying to do in terms of connecting with their bodies and understanding the signals of hunger and fullness.
Research shows these injections are far more effective than making lifestyle changes on their own, and I’ve seen it in my practice, says Melina Jampolis, MD, who is prescribing semaglutide to her patients. In 22 years, this is the best diet drug I’ve ever seen, one that I feel really comfortable prescribing.
How can I get Ozempic?
These injectables are designed for people with a body mass index (BMI) over 30 or a BMI of 27+, as well as a weight-related health issue such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. These policies are intended for insurance coverage purposes. Anyone can be prescribed the drugs if they are willing to pay out of pocket. If your insurance doesn’t cover the drugs, they cost about $1,200 for a month’s supply.
You will need a prescription from a doctor, but shortages still exist that cause problems for diabetics who need the medication. Dr. Jampolis says, “These injections are being abused by the public and celebrities who don’t need them. They are used incorrectly, without adequate nutritional guidance or behavioral support, by probably 95% of people.
What side effects does Ozempic have?
All medications have side effects and semaglutide is no exception. Experts point out that these new shots are safer than older diet drugs like fen-phen or invasive bariatric surgery. Shauna Levy, MD, medical director of the Tulane Hospitals Bariatric and Weight Loss Center, finds this new class of drugs thrilling and says, “For me, the disease consequences of obesity itself far outweigh very rare events like gallstones.” with semaglutide.
Even unbranded doses are flooding the market, popping up at spas and Botox clinics. These often come from pharmacies that blend their own ingredients to create medicines that aren’t approved by the FDA. Some people are even making their own shots with black market ingredients to sell at Ozempic parties held in houses like Tupperware parties.
Is taking Ozempic cheating?
When Weight Watchers announced it would offer members access to prescription diet drugs, the response was mixed. Some people view these injections as cheating, says nutritionist Christina Jordan, who works with a doctor to prescribe semaglutide at her weight-loss clinic, where about 90 percent of patients, including Jordan herself, who lost 38 pounds , are in care shots. She compares them to childbirth, with or without an epidural. I’ll get the epidural. There is still work to be done with drugs. But there is less struggle.
How much does Ozempic cost for women over 50?
A one-month supply of semaglutide ranges from $1,200 to $1,400, depending on the dose. If you have diabetes and are prescribed Ozempic, that price is almost always covered by insurance. But if you’re prescribed the weight loss shot, it’s not covered about 80 percent of the time. There’s a weight stigma with pricing, says Dr. Levy. Instead of endorsing these injections as a preventative tool, insurance policies prevent patients from receiving treatment until they develop diabetes.
As for those dicey unbranded versions, prices range from $99 to $1,200, but Jordan says the cheap shots that claim to be enhanced with other vitamins are likely just watered down. They are using cheap add-ons and only a trace amount of semaglutide.
How long should I take Ozempic?
I’m always concerned about the rebound effect of women who gain weight back after stopping the drug, says obstetrician Anna Cabeca, DO, who has yet to prescribe the injections. Experts like Dr. Levy believe that anti-obesity drugs like semaglutide should be taken for life to treat obesity, just like high blood pressure drugs are generally taken for life. When someone takes thyroid medication, they need to replace a hormone their body isn’t producing. Semaglutide is doing something very similar, says Dr. Levy. The body wanting to gain weight is part of the obesity disease and has nothing to do with these drugs. However, the prospect of life doesn’t fly with most budgets. These shots serve a kind of Nicorette function, improving people’s chances of adhering to a healthy lifestyle, adds David Prologo, MD. But I predict success will be limited by the cost of the drugs.
Bottom line: Proceed with caution with Ozempic over 50
If you choose to use shots, do so under the care of a trained professional, with a healthy diet and exercise. It’s a godsend for people in health crises, but it’s not meant for someone who only has the last 20 pounds to lose, says Dr. Ubell. And Amy Shah, MD, says: While this is a great discovery, it shouldn’t be used casually. These drugs are not a solution for people who can use diet and lifestyle measures to lose weight.
Can you get the results without the shot? A doctor thinks so!
It’s easy enough to mimic the benefits of this drug without all the risks, says dietitian Fred Pescatore, MD How? By eating in ways that naturally increase the production of GLP-1, the same hormone in semaglutide injections. Delaying breakfast with intermittent fasting is a proven approach. Eating a keto diet is another. British research has found that the calcium in cheese paired with the amino acids in meat stimulates the release of GLP-1, making you less hungry. In all, research shows that people who boost their GLP-1 lose about 5.5 times more weight than those who don’t.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First for women.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your doctor before pursuing any treatment plan.
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