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What is Ozempic and how do weight-loss drugs work?

The war against obesity has a new weapon in the form of Ozempic, the most well-known of a new generation of weight-loss drugs which have taken the medical profession and mainstream media by storm. But what is Ozempic and how does it work? Do the many side-effects outweigh the undeniable benefits? And should it be the first line of attack against obesity or the last resort after diet, exercise and other lifestyle interventions have had the chance to work?

In the war against two of the world’s most pressing health challenges – obesity and type-2 diabetes – a major new offensive has been opened by the discovery of a new generation of weight-loss drugs.

Of these new pharmaceutical interventions Ozempic, the brand name of manufacturer Novo Nordisk’s semaglutide formulation, has attracted the most interest and attention, not only for its ability to stabilise blood-sugar levels, but for its substantial weight-loss benefits.

If you’re overweight, suffer from diabetes, or both, the impact of these new drugs is profound: they might just save your life.

But even if you’re as fit as a butcher’s dog you should still have a very keen interest in the pros and cons of these new medications.

Why? Treating obesity-related health issues costs $336 billion (£270bn) per year and accounts for a whopping 8.4% of total healthcare spending in OECD countries, accounting to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

That’s an awful lot of money that could be otherwise invested in finding better treatments for other health problems that kill millions of people each year, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. Surely anything that can reduce the substantial economic impact of obesity on healthcare systems must be considered and explored.

To get you up to speed, here’s what you need to know about Ozempic and the other new-wave of weight-loss and obesity drugs, including how they work, who qualifies for them, and the both the short-term and long-term benefits and side effects of taking them.

What is Ozempic?

Ozempic, the brand name for Semaglutide, is a medication approved for the treatment of type-2 diabetes. Manufactured by Novo Nordisk, it belongs to a class of drugs known as GLP-1 receptor agonists. This medication is designed to help lower blood-sugar levels and has also been found to contribute significantly to weight loss.

It is administered via injection once per week, which makes it easy and convenient to administer compared to daily diabetes treatments. The dual benefits of blood sugar regulation and weight loss make Ozempic an attractive option for people managing these interconnected health problems.

How does Ozempic work?

Ozempic functions by mimicking the incretin hormones, which are gut-derived peptide hormones that are rapidly secreted in response to a meal to regulate blood sugar by increasing insulin release. Specifically, Ozempic activates the GLP-1 receptor, which plays a pivotal role in lowering blood-glucose levels. It also slows gastric emptying, and so extends the feeling of fullness after eating, which helps reduce total calorie intake.

This mechanism not only assists in controlling blood-sugar spikes but also contributes to weight loss, which is why Ozempic is touted as a powerful tool for managing both diabetes and obesity.

Why am I hearing so much about Ozempic now?

The drug has gained much attention recently because of its significant results in weight-loss studies and its approval for use not just in diabetes management but also as a treatment for obesity (under the brand name Wegovy).

Its effectiveness, coupled with an increasing public focus on the global obesity epidemic and new treatment options, has made it a frequent topic in medical communities, mainstream media and social media. Celebrity endorsements and anecdotal success stories have also help propelled Ozempic into the spotlight as a promising solution for those looking to manage weight and diabetes.

Is taking Ozempic the best way to lose body fat?

While Ozempic has been shown to aid weight loss significantly, whether it is the best method depends on individual health profiles and circumstances. It is particularly effective for those with type-2 diabetes who also need to lose weight.

However, it is generally recommended as part of a broader weight management programme that includes diet, exercise, and behaviuoral changes. Ozempic should not be seen as a magic bullet but as a powerful additional tool that can complement other lifestyle modifications for comprehensive weight management.

Should I take Ozempic?

Whether to take Ozempic is a decision that should be made in close consultation with your doctor or healthcare provider. It is typically prescribed for patients with type-2 diabetes who may also benefit from weight loss.

If you’re struggling with managing your blood-sugar levels and have a body mass index (BMI) that indicates obesity, Ozempic might be recommended as part of your treatment plan. However, it is not suitable for everyone, including people with certain medical conditions or those who are pregnant. Only a thorough medical evaluation at the hands of a professional can determine whether Ozempic is right for you.

How do I qualify for Ozempic?

The eligibility criteria for prescribing weight-loss drugs including Ozempic typically include having a diagnosis of type-2 diabetes with a need for better glycemic control, or being diagnosed with obesity.

For obesity treatment, specifically under the brand name Wegovy, adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher (obese) or 27 or higher (overweight) with at least one weight-related condition such as high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes, or high cholesterol may be candidates. Each case is assessed individually, considering overall health, potential benefits, and possible risks.

What are the side effects of Ozempic?

Common side effects of all obesity medications include gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. Some patients may also experience more serious problems, including pancreatitis, kidney problems, and severe gastrointestinal issues.

Long-term use of weight-loss drugs have been linked with several potential risks and complications, including thyroid tumours, including cancer, pancreatitis, kidney failure, serious allergic reactions, and worsening of diabetic retinopathy.

It’s crucial for patients using these drugs to monitor their health and report any adverse effects to immediately to ensure appropriate management and adjustments to their treatment plan.

Is Ozempic a long-term weight-management solution?

Weight-loss medications have shown promising results for long-term weight management. In clinical studies participants taking Ozempic experienced significant and sustained weight loss over a period of two years. However, the effectiveness can vary based on adherence to the medication regimen and concurrent lifestyle choices, such as maintaining a healthy diet and regular physical activity. So while these medications can help reduce weight and maintain those reductions, they work best when integrated into a holistic approach to health and wellness.

Monitoring by a healthcare professional is essential to manage these risks effectively, and patients should always be vigilant for any signs of adverse effects and report them immediately.

Are there other drugs similar to Ozempic?

Yes, there are other drugs in the GLP-1 receptor agonist family similar to Ozempic, which work by enhancing insulin secretion, suppressing appetite, and slowing gastric emptying. Each has its unique dosing schedule, efficacy profile and side effects, but all share the common goal of improving blood-sugar levels and supporting weight-loss efforts.

Both Wegovy and Ozempic are based on semaglutide and manufactured by Novo Nordisk. While Ozempic is primarily used to treat type-2 diabetes, Wegovy is specifically dosed and approved for weight loss in adults with obesity or overweight status who have at least one weight-related condition such as hypertension, type-2 diabetes, or high cholesterol. The mechanism of action in Wegovy is the same as in Ozempic, mimicking an incretin hormone that stimulates insulin release, suppresses glucagon secretion, and delays gastric emptying to induce satiety and reduce appetite.

Victoza, which contains liraglutide, is also a GLP-1 receptor agonist, but it is used primarily for diabetes management. Like Ozempic, Victoza enhances insulin secretion, suppresses glucagon production, and promotes satiety, but it is typically taken daily rather than weekly.

Trulicity, which contains dulaglutide, is another GLP-1 receptor agonist used to treat type-2 diabetes. Its effects are similar to those of semaglutide and liraglutide, including enhancing insulin release in response to meals, and slowing food leaving your stomach to help prevent blood-sugar spikes.

Byetta, another GLP-1 receptor agonist, was originally derived from the saliva of the Gila monster, a species of venomous lizard native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It stimulates insulin release in a glucose-dependent manner and has been shown to reduce hemoglobin A1C levels effectively.

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