Ozempic, a drug developed to manage type 2 diabetes, has been in the news a lot lately because of one of its distinct side effects: severe weight loss. Both Ozempic and Wegovy, an analogue of Ozempic approved specifically for weight loss by the Food and Drug Administration, are brand names for a drug called semaglutide. Semaglutide is one of several medications that mimic an important hormone in the digestive system called glucagon-like peptide 1, or GLP-1. It amplifies a process that our bodies perform naturally.
GLP-1 is released in our intestines when we eat, and there are receptors for the hormone in cells throughout the body. In the pancreas, GLP-1 enhances insulin production and inhibits glucagon production. This helps insulin-resistant bodies, such as those with type 2 diabetes or obesity, manage their blood sugar levels. In the stomach, GLP-1 slows gastric emptying, which extends the feeling of fullness. In the brain, GLP-1 suppresses appetite, which also promotes satiety and curbs hunger, so we eat less.
In late 2022, a rush to use Ozempic off-label for weight loss, likely spurred by the sudden rise in its popularity on social media, resulted in Medication shortage for people who need it. But more drugs like semaglutide are currently undergoing approval by the FDA to be prescribed for weight loss, likely signaling the end of shortages and a promising new generation of medical treatment for obesity.
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