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Ozempic for Weight Loss: How Fast Does it Work?

Content Team

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7 min

Weight loss can be a tricky endeavor for a lot of people. Among the options gaining traction online is the blood sugar control medication, Ozempic.


Whether you’re eligible for such prescription medication is a key point you need to discuss with your healthcare provider to ensure you’re safely losing weight and avoiding any unwanted side effects.


There’s no specific timeline for weight loss on Ozempic, as the results take different durations depending on multiple factors we’ll discuss below. Knowing more about this should help you temper your expectations and avoid unnecessary frustrations during your journey to lose weight.

About Ozempic

Ozempic injection pen
Ozempic injection pen

Ozempic got FDA approval in 2017 to join the list of prescription drugs used to treat type 2 diabetes. semaglutide is the generic name of Ozempic. It’s a glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) drug that signals to the body to lower blood sugar, while also having other metabolic advantages.


It has shown excellent blood sugar control for people with type 2 diabetes and it’s especially helpful in lowering the risk of cardiovascular conditions like a heart attack in the population.


The drug comes in an injectable formulation with three different concentrations of 0.5, 1, and 2 milligrams. It’s used to treat diabetes through a weekly, self-administered injection.

How Does Ozempic Work?

Before touching on the other mechanisms by which Ozempic works, it’s helpful to take a step back and understand how the liver plays a key role in maintaining our bodies’ energy stores. In fed states, the liver stores excess glucose as glycogen, which is a complex carbohydrate. It’s our body's way of rationing and ensuring we still have energy to function when glucose is scarce.


Ozempic signals for the liver to stack more glycogen and rid the bloodstream of excess circulating glucose. Additionally, it slows down stomach motility, increasing the time needed for stomach emptying. Food staying in the stomach for longer creates a sense of satiety and prompts us to eat less.


The active ingredient of Ozempic, semaglutide, also stimulates the pancreas to produce more insulin, a naturally occurring hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. It transports glucose into the cells that depend on it for energy production, like our muscles, liver, and brain.

Does Ozempic Work as a Weight Loss Medication?

An obese woman and slim woman on gray backgorun
An obese woman and slim woman on gray backgorun. Source: DepositPhotos

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2021 explored whether the active ingredient of Ozempic can be used as a weight loss drug.


The study concluded that a 2.4 milligram dose of semaglutide combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle changes have helped people achieve better results. The clinical trials have shown 15% weight loss for people on semaglutide as opposed to 3% for the control group.


It’s worth noting that the weight loss can be attributed to the appetite suppressing properties of semaglutide. This rationale led to the FDA’s approval of another semaglutide drug similar to Ozempic for weight loss. Wegovy comes in a 2.4 milligrams preparation and can be used as a weekly injection to reduce body weight.


Although it’s not FDA-approved for this specific purpose, it’s possible to use Ozempic for weight loss off-label. Just remember that the highest dose of Ozempic comes at only 2 milligram, so you won’t be able to achieve the same results as those of Wegovy with a much lower dose.

Who Can Use Ozempic for Weight Loss?

Despite the trend of influencers increasingly turning to Ozempic for attaining their weight loss goals, health experts empathize that Ozempic off-label use should be taken with a grain of salt.


Normal weight patients who are after dropping a couple of pounds might not be the best candidates for weight loss drugs in general. This population isn’t heavily studied in that context and the potential side effects might outweigh the weight loss achieved.


On the other hand, obesity medicine considers semaglutide for an overweight population with a concomitant health condition like diabetes. It can be used as an alternative to bariatric surgery, however, the weight loss won’t be as quick compared to surgery.


The target demographic for Wegovy, which is FDA-approved for weight loss, is people with a body mass index of 30 or higher. People with a body mass index of 27 or higher with obesity-related health issues can also benefit from the drug. Adults with type 2 diabetes would achieve tight glycemic control in addition to losing weight along the way.

Benefits of Using Ozempic for Weight Loss

Here are some of the key benefits of Ozempic that can be achieved over 68 weeks of usage according to an article published in The New England Journal of Medicine:


  • Loss of 5% to 20% of the body weight
  • Noticeable reduction in waist circumference
  • Condition improvement for people with high blood pressure
  • Maintenance of healthy cholesterol levels

It’s worth highlighting that this study was sponsored by Ozempic’s manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, which might signal a potential bias.

Common Side Effects of Ozempic

Generally speaking, Ozempic is a safe medication when taken as prescribed. That said, the most common side effects are related to the gastrointestinal tract. This includes nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The side effects vary in severity from one person to another, but they usually subside with time for most people.


Since Ozempic delays the stomach emptying, stomach pain is on the list of the drug’s potential side effects. You can avoid this by eating smaller meals dispersed throughout the day.


Most patients should see significant improvement in terms of adverse effects after a few weeks. However, if the symptoms persist or become severe enough to interfere with your daily living, don’t hesitate to consult your health care provider.


There are other more serious side effects of Ozempic, but they’re very rare. Those include:


  • Low blood sugar
  • Inflammation of the pancreas
  • Thyroid nodules and cancer
  • Vision fluctuations
  • Hypersensitivity reactions
  • Kidney stones

How Quickly Will I Lose Weight With Ozempic?

The feet of a woman standing on bathroom scales to turn
The feet of a woman standing on bathroom scales to turn. Source: DepositPhotos

There’s no simple answer to how soon you can expect to see your weight going down. There are many variables that factor in weight loss, including basal metabolic rate, diet, physical activity, and overall health. These factors differ from one person to another and they all influence how much weight you can lose with Ozempic.


To avoid any unwanted side effects of Ozempic, the drug is started at lower doses and the concentration is gradually increased every four weeks. Once the appetite suppression achieved by the higher dose of the drug creates a state of caloric deficit, weight loss usually follows.


For the first week, you’ll be started on a dose of 0.25 milligram and gradually go up to 2 milligram dose approved for weight loss. You should always follow up with your physician or nutrition specialist for any concerns or questions regarding Ozempic or Wegovy.


Your registered dietician can also recommend diet and exercise for chronic weight management. This way, the drop in your body mass index won’t be undone the moment you stop taking Ozempic.

What Happens When I Stop Taking Ozempic for Weight Loss?

Research suggests that people can regain up to two thirds of the weight they lost with Ozempic a year later after stopping the drug. In a study published in Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism in 2022, a trial on 2000 subjects shows that the calorie deficit achieved while on Ozempic has to be maintained to avoid regaining the weight lost.


That said, please make sure you discuss a sustainable plan with your registered dietitian that includes diet and exercise to make sure you healthily lose weight and also maintain your weight goals.


Even at higher doses, Ozempic can only do so much. Obesity is a complex medical condition with many factors that influence the treatment decision. Your health care provider should include you in the decision-making and ensure a healthy lifestyle remains at the core.

Is Ozempic Covered by Insurance?

Don’t expect your health insurance provider to cover Ozempic as a weight management medication as it’s not FDA-approved for that purpose for the time being.


On the other hand, insurance coverage for Ozempic as a treatment for type 2 diabetes can be part of your current plan. For instance, Medicare Plan D can get you coverage for Ozempic as an anti-diabetic drug, given that your health care providers authorize your prescription.


Medicaid plans follow in the same footsteps and don’t usually approve Ozempic when used as an obesity medicine. However, Medicaid coverage varies by state, and depending on where you live, you can get approved for other weight management prescriptions.

Should I Use an Off-Brand Version of Ozempic?

No, you shouldn’t. The FDA has received reports of off-brand versions of Ozempic that are starting to appear online and warns against the use of any generic medications that haven’t been sufficiently tested or approved.


Currently, there’s no approved generic version of semaglutide, neither for glycemic nor weight control. So, no matter how the off-brand version tries to convince you otherwise and hide facts in the fine print, you shouldn’t buy into such claims.


As of July 2023, there’s an increasing number of reports highlighting Ozempic shortages. People who use Ozempic off-label for weight loss might be contributing to the situation, especially with trending social media and celebrity endorsement of the drug.


This means that people with diabetes might find it harder to get their needed prescriptions for blood glucose control. You should be mindful when using any drug for its off-label benefits and can opt for drugs developed specifically for the sought after outcomes instead.

Conclusion

Chronic weight management is integral for avoiding heart disease, obesity-related conditions like joint pain, and maintaining a positive body image. Lifestyle changes like exercise and diet are the first line of treatment to achieve a healthy weight.


Nevertheless, adding medications for weight loss like Wegovy or Ozempic, which share the same active ingredient, can make this process more enjoyable. Ozempic has proved to be a versatile medication that helps keep blood glucose levels in check and achieve positive results for weight loss in people with obesity.

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