Weight loss drugs like Ozempic were already extremely buzzy before Oprah Winfrey announced last week that she’s taking an unspecified weight-loss drug as a “maintenance tool.” Ozempic, which has the active ingredient semaglutide and was originally approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017 to treat diabetes, is often described as a weight-reduction miracle. This class of drug is so popular that it has transformed Denmark’s economy: In August, The Times’s Eshe Nelson reported that Novo Nordisk, the Danish company that makes Ozempic and another semaglutide drug, Wegovy, had become so profitable, it had “exceeded the size of the Danish economy.”
But Winfrey’s announcement has sent the conversation into the stratosphere. Many of us have been hearing about her dieting struggles for decades. According to Axios, Zocdoc, a portal that allows people to book doctor visits online, “saw a 30 percent spike” in appointments for patients seeking semaglutide drugs after Winfrey acknowledged taking medication.
Studies have shown that semaglutide drugs have additional benefits beyond diabetes management and weight loss. For example, as The Times’s Dani Blum reported in November, a large, yearslong trial showed that Wegovy “cut the risk of heart attack, stroke or death from cardiovascular issues by 20 percent among overweight or obese people with heart disease.” But as Dr. Clyde Yancy, the chief of the division of cardiology at Northwestern Medicine, told Blum, these drugs are pretty new, and so “we don’t know as much as we would like to know about the truly long-term effects.”
Even without enough knowledge about the ramifications of long-term use, it seems people may have to stay on semaglutide drugs indefinitely to keep weight off and their blood sugar regulated. There are potentially serious side effects to being on the drug for even brief periods, and there are side effects to coming off it. In July, Aria Bendix reported for NBC News that “Ozempic has been on the market for less than six years, and Wegovy for two, so doctors and patients are learning in real time what it’s like to use the drugs for extended periods.”
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