The history of medication-assisted weight loss spans many decades. However, it is only in the last year that it has come back to the cultural forefront due to the frenzy surrounding Novo Nordisk’s Ozempic® (semaglutide)—a medication approved by the FDA for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
In addition to its intended use, Ozempic is also prescribed off-label for weight loss and it is for this reason that it has become so popular in mainstream media and social media. Everywhere you look, people seem to be taking Ozempic, wondering how they can get Ozempic, or educating themselves on non-GLP-1 alternatives that could help with their weight loss journey.
It comes as no surprise: the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 42 percent of Americans live with obesity. While the rise of GLP-1 receptor agonists (like Ozempic and Wegovy®, both name brand medications for semaglutide) has broadened the discussion around obesity as a chronic disease, it has also fueled a wave of questionable prescribing practices.
So what does it mean to take Ozempic for weight loss? Found is an evidence-based weight loss clinic and we’ve gathered all relevant information to give you our expert opinion.
Ozempic (one brand name for semaglutide) is a type 2 diabetes medication that’s part of the glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists (GLP-1 RAs)* class of medicines.
These drugs mimic the GLP-1 hormone naturally produced in the gut, lowering blood sugar levels and enhancing insulin release, which is crucial for people with type 2 diabetes. It helps curb hunger and slows digestion, helping people feel full longer. As a result, some people with obesity have lost weight while taking it.
What’s more, semaglutide has been shown to reduce the risk of major cardiovascular events such as heart attack, stroke, or death in adults with type 2 diabetes and known heart disease, according to multiple clinical trials funded by Novo Nordisk. And it’s significant to note that some patients have reported reduced cravings while using semaglutide for weight loss.
One other brand name for semaglutide is Wegovy®, another Novo Nordisk medication.
The biggest difference between the two: Wegovy can be prescribed at a higher dose and is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for weight management; Ozempic is only FDA-approved for treating type 2 diabetes but is also prescribed off-label for weight loss. The list price for Ozempic is $935.77 for a one-month supply.
With a fairly high price tag, you may be wondering, "is there a generic Ozempic for weight loss?" Unfortunately, no generic version of Ozempic for weight loss is currently on the market. However, alternatives to Ozempic for weight loss are available, such as Wegovy, Mounjaro, or Saxenda, all of which are GLP-1 medications but not all are FDA-approved for weight loss specifically. There are also non-GLP-1 medications that are more easily accessible and cost-effective, like metformin. Like all medications, it’s important to understand the risks of taking medication for weight loss. Common side effects of GLP-1s and metformin include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and acid reflux. A more serious but less common side effect of metformin is lactic acidosis, which can result in death, hypothermia, hypotension, and resistant bradyarrhythmias. Studies show taking metformin long term may, in rare cases, lead to complications such as pancreatitis, hepatitis, abnormal blood clotting, abnormal vitamin B12 levels, and reactive hypoglycemia. Find detailed side effects and risk information for specific medications here.
While not specifically approved by the FDA for weight loss, Ozempic appears to promote weight loss by slowing digestion, which causes people to feel fuller longer after they eat. Because it affects the body’s appetite regulation, it can help to manage satiety.
So all the publicity may be warranted: Semaglutide (brand name Ozempic) can be a game-changer when used off-label to support weight loss.for chronic weight management in those who’ve tried everything to lose weight but can’t keep it off.
However, when deciding whether Ozempic is right for your weight loss goals, it’s important to review the list of potential side effects, consider recent supply shortages, and the rise in insurance companies refusing coverage for the drug in certain cases or requiring step therapy.
As far as side effects people experience while taking semaglutide (such as Ozempic or Wegovy), the most commonly reported ones are gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain.
Although extremely rare, more serious Ozempic and Wegovy side effects include:
Possible thyroid tumors, including thyroid cancer
Low blood sugar
Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis)
Changes in vision
Wegovy and Ozempic also come with a black box warning noting semaglutide has been shown to cause thyroid C-cell tumors in rodents, although it is unknown if it also does so in people. Those with a family history of medullary thyroid carcinoma (MTC) or Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia syndrome type 2 (MEN 2), shouldn’t take semaglutide.
Finally, if you’re wondering who can prescribe Ozempic for weight loss or weight management, your primary care physician or endocrinologist may be able to help. However, it’s important to consider that obesity medicine is a developing field and many doctors are not experts in this science. Found offers access to physicians who are trained in obesity medicine and know how to personalize a prescription and treatment plan for you.
At Found, we know that personalized, effective care is a priority for people who are looking for help with medical weight loss. Our physicians use their expertise in obesity medicine to customize a treatment plan for each person’s unique profile. “Our desire is that our clinically rigorous approach can help inspire and inform the establishment of obesity care clinical guidelines,” says Dr. Rekha Kumar, Found’s Chief Medical Officer and the former Medical Director of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. “[This] would encourage a full evaluation of a patient’s medical history and biological and lifestyle factors, and tailoring a treatment approach to what is best for the patient based on those factors, rather than simply writing a prescription for the latest medications irrespective of expense and access factors.”
With an initial Ozempic dosage for weight loss of 0.25 mg, you may notice blood glucose levels dropping after the first week. However, for weight loss, the full effect can take four or five weeks, usually after your physician increases your dose over time. The manufacturer also notes Ozempic’s effectiveness varies from person to person and can take longer, depending on personal factors such as age, weight, the amount of body fluid you have, your kidney and liver health, and other medications you take.
This speaks to the individual nature of medication-assisted weight loss as a whole. GLP-1 medications like Ozempic or Wegovy are not likely to work for everyone. In fact, many of our members see significant weight loss on non-GLP-1 medications because they were prescribed as part of a treatment plan that addressed their unique medical, biological, and behavioral patterns.
If you’re considering taking a GLP-1 like Ozempic or Wegovy to manage obesity or to lose weight, consider pairing one of these medications with a behavioral program that’s tailored to your unique lifestyle and road blocks. Without significant change to your sleep, stress, eating and movement habits (among others), sustaining the weight loss might prove to be more difficult once you come off the medication.
In fact, studies indicate that long-term use of Ozempic for weight loss is likely necessary. A year-long extension study completed after a 68-week clinical trial discovered that participants who stopped their weekly injections of 2.4 mg of semaglutide regained two-thirds of their initial weight loss.
In addition, the findings of a study published in 2022 in the journal Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism confirm “the chronicity of obesity and suggest ongoing treatment is required to maintain improvements in weight and health.”
Translation: Because obesity is a chronic disease, those who have it may need to take medication long-term for sustainable weight management.
A well-tailored weight loss treatment plan can include medications like Ozempic, and semaglutide has been proven to drive weight loss for some. Ultimately, a clinical provider will partner with you to determine if Ozempic for weight loss is right for you, or if another medication might be a better fit.
It’s important to add a lifestyle change component to your medication-assisted weight loss program to have a better chance of sustaining the weight loss after your taper off the medication.
For many, taking GLP-1 medications like Ozempic is a long-term commitment in order to ensure proper chronic obesity management.
GLP-1 prescriptions, filled through your local pharmacy, are now available as part of Found's weight-loss toolkit. While GLP-1s are effective for weight loss, they are not clinically appropriate for everyone. Eligibility for a GLP-1 is based on a thorough evaluation of your medical history, eating behavior, lab work, and insurance coverage. If a GLP-1 is not appropriate for you, our providers will work with you to determine an effective medication for your health profile.
Found is among the largest medically-supported weight care clinics in the country, serving more than 200,000 members to date. To start your journey with Found, take our quiz.