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Semaglutide: Weighing the Risks and Realities of the Latest Weight Loss Trend

Updated: Dec 17, 2023

Over the past 20+ years helping coach people of all backgrounds improve their health, we’ve seen PLENTY of diet fads, gimmicks and downright dangerous tactics promoting the next easy weight loss pill, potion or surgery. Beyond bizarre celebrity-promoted diets we’ve seen recently such as sexy pineapple diet, watermelon diet, grapefruit diet, cabbage diet, etc. we’ve seen this same confusion throughout history with even crazier things like the clay diet, the air diet, tapeworm diet and even the cotton ball diet! 

Recently though with the use of technology, we’ve seen a rise in the newest “easy button” solution of weight loss drugs in the form of pills and injections. These weight loss drugs, which target gut hormones, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP), are predicted to rise 378% to $1B by 2027. This is not surprising as it seems to be human nature to look for the quickest way to the finish line; but let’s be honest, is a “quick fix” the best long term and sustainable solution?

This week we’re discussing a popular drug approved by the FDA in 2017, originally intended for patients with type 2-diabetes. Since 2021 this drug has been approved as a weight loss method for obesity. Since then, there have been a number of side effects that have become known, yet the marketing does not seem to share the full story.  So is it really that bad?  

First, what is Semaglutide? Semaglutide, also known as: ozempic, wegovy, and rybelsus, is a medication created to treat type 2-diabetes. It belongs to a class of drugs called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists. This class of medication mimics the effects of GLP-1, a natural hormone in the body that plays a crucial role in glucose metabolism. Let’s dig deeper into this and talk about side effects, risks, costs, and why GLP-1 drugs are not ideal for sustainable weight loss. 

While semaglutide can be beneficial for managing blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, like any medication, it has potential side effects and considerations. Some of those side effects include: 

  1. Nausea and Vomiting

According to the FDA, up to 20.3% of people taking the 1mg dose (typically for type 2-diabetes but prescribed off-label) experience nausea and vomiting. Nausea is even more common if you are taking the higher-dose that is recommended for weight loss. The dose recommended for weight loss is 2.4mg. 

2. Diarrhea 

Around 9% of people taking Semaglutide for type 2-diabetes reported diarrhea. While 30% of people taking the higher dose (2.4mg) for weight loss reported diarrhea during clinical trials. You are more likely to experience most side effects, like diarrhea, while taking a higher dose. When you choose to take Semaglutide for weight loss, your health care provider will increase your dosage over time. Constipation may occur but is less common.

3. Increase Risk of Thyroid Cancer

Semaglutide has a black box warning (the strictest warning) from the FDA. The boxed warning addresses the risk of thyroid C-cell tumors. The reason for this warning is due to animal studies. During the studies they found that rodents developed thyroid tumors when exposed to GLP-1 agonists. You are especially at risk if you have a history of thyroid cancer.

4. Pancreatitis

There have been documented cases of GLP-1 drugs contributing to pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that can cause severe abdominal pain and, in some cases, be life-threatening. The long-term consequences of repeated pancreatitis episodes are not well understood.

5. Hypoglycemia

GLP-1 drugs can lead to low blood sugar levels, a condition known as hypoglycemia. While this is a common concern in the management of diabetes, it can pose additional risks for those not suffering from the condition.

6. Ozempic Face

People taking high doses of Smegalutide, for weight loss, notice less fullness in their face. Facial fat loss is a side effect from losing a significant amount of weight fast. This results in loose skin and more noticeable wrinkles. Keep in mind severe health side effects outweigh these effects. However, if you are concerned about changes in your appearance, these effects are important to take note of. 

7. Rebound Weight Gain

Semaglutide is a medication created for long term use. Wegovy is the typical version used for weight loss. It is also the version with the higher dosage. If you continue to take this medication and can avoid or tolerate the potential side effects, weight loss is typically sustained. However, if you stop taking it at any point, it is highly likely you will gain some of the weight back, if not all. Experts say this is due to the drug not being a “cure” for obesity. It does NOT prevent the metabolic adaptation that occurs during weight loss, nor help the patient create healthy habits necessary to maintain the weight long term.

8. Unforeseen Exorbitant Cost

Semaglutide is ultimately a lifetime commitment. If a person is medically labeled obese, insurance will typically cover the cost of the drug. But once no longer labeled, obese, insurance will typically no longer cover the medication. Individuals who wish to continue, or those without insurance, will be expected to pay the full price (around $1,000/mth).

Now are these potential side effects worth it?  

Many who have gone thise route, say no. About once a week we sit with a potential client that has been damaged by these medications. Either physically due to the unhealthy side effects we shared above, and/or psychologically by the negative relationship created with food. They typically share regret around the choice to medicate, and our coming to us for a sustainable solution to get their health back on track.

While not always easy, we feel the best approach is holistic functional health program containing a foundation of fitness, nutrition and accountability.  With a well rounded balanced diet and targeted workout routine, you can lose weight, with no unhealthy side effects or risks to your future, while creating the habits necessary to sustain a healthier lifestyle.

This may be a lengthy post, but we feel it is important to shine a light on the potential consequences of weight loss medications, and provide alternatives, to ensure that you are able to make an informed decision in your health journey. 

As always, stay healthy and blessed! Don’t forget to get that workout in today. ;)

-Grit Life Team

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