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Elon Musk Uses Diabetes Drug for Weight Loss: How Safe Is It? Doctors Explain

Ozempic and Wegovy (both injectable drugs) are semaglutides that are used as incretins or gut hormones.

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The latest obsession of celebrities and TikTok’s newest trend is a type 2 diabetes drug by Novo Nordisk that is being used for weight loss. Even Elon Musk has acknowledged using this drug, along with “fasting,” for his “fit, ripped, and healthy” body.

There are two drugs manufactured by Novo Nordisk –– Ozempic and Wegovy –– both of which are prescribed for people who are overweight or suffering from obesity, and are also suffering from type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol as a precondition.

As far as India is concerned, though the Drug Controller General of India approved using oral semaglutides to treat type 2 diabetes back in 2020 itself, the first ever oral semaglutide (manufactured by Novo Nordisk) was only launched in January 2022.

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What Are These Drugs?

Ozempic and Wegovy (both injectable drugs) are semaglutides that are used as incretins or gut hormones. The basic function of these drugs is to change the levels of insulin in diabetes patients.

How they work is that they help “early satiety and delay gastric emptying” in the people taking the drugs. Basically, you get full quickly and the food moves slowly through your gut making you feel full for a longer duration, thus reducing weight.

Do These Drugs Have Side Effects?

Wegovy.com and a press release by the United States Food and Drug Administration enlisted certain side effects of the drug:

  • Cancer

  • Hypoglycemia

  • Kidney failure

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Increased heart rate

  • Gall bladder problems

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhoea

  • Vomiting

  • Constipation

  • Abdominal pain

  • Headache

  • Fatigue

  • Indigestion

  • Dizziness

  • Gastroenteritis

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease

Apart from these, there is also a potential risk of thyroid C-cell tumours and allergic reactions.

The website also said that the drug should only be taken with a “reduced calorie meal plan and increased physical activity.” Additionally, people under the age of 18 should not take the drug since its effects on them are still not known.
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Doctors Warn You Not to Use

Dr Tarun Sahani, a senior consultant for internal medicine at Delhi’s Apollo Hospital, told FIT that since the side effects are way too many, using this drug only for weight loss is not recommended by any doctor.

For people who might want to use the drug, Dr Sahani suggests exercising extreme caution and medical supervision. He adds that the drug should only be used in “special circumstances.”

While Dr Sahani reiterates that this is definitely not a “healthy trend,” he understands that people in the beauty industry might feel that it’s critical for them to look a certain way.

Dr Caroline Apovian, co-director of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, told People that using these drugs for weight loss as a trend comes at the cost of snatching the drug from those suffering from type 2 diabetes, putting them at increased risk.

People quoted Dr Apovian as saying, “The Hollywood trend is concerning. We're not talking about stars who need to lose 10 pounds. We're talking about people who are dying of obesity, are going to die of obesity. You're taking away from patients with diabetes. We have lifesaving drugs… and the United States public that really needs these drugs can't get them.”

She also added that quick fixes for losing weight don’t work. These people will gain all the weight they’ve lost back as soon as they go off the drugs.

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Use With Caution, Say Other Experts

Dr Ambrish Mithal, an endocrinologist at Delhi's Max Hospital, agrees that Wegovy should not be an over the counter drug since it’s not for everybody, and that it should only be used under medical supervision.

But he also believes that drugs of this group have extreme potential and have shown successful results, not just for diabetes or weight loss, but for heart diseases as well.

"It’s not unsafe to use Wegovy as a weight loss drug. Every new drug from this group is showing incremental success in weight loss. This specific drug is showing immense success in weight loss, in some cases up to 20 percent."
Dr Ambrish Mithal

As far as the side effects are concerned, they appear to be the same in both diabetics and non-diabetics, says Dr Mithal. But he acknowledges that since the side effects are so many, the discontinuation rate of the drug might be very high. “No one wants to feel nauseated constantly,” says the doctor.

Obesity: A Cause for Concern

The US FDA approved Wegovy in June 2021 and stated that nearly 70 percent of all American adults struggled with obesity or were chronically overweight. In the last 20 years, obesity in the US has increased from 30.5 percent to 41.9 percent.

Dr Sahani mentions that while till a few years ago, obesity was seen as a lifestyle disease, it is now being seen as a metabolic, non-communicable disease. He says, “Now, we are seeing people who eat healthy and exercise daily becoming obese. We need a drug that will modify the metabolic system to control obesity.”

But he hopes that a safer version of the drug is available soon because its results have been encouraging. Dr Sahani added, “It’s convenient too since it’s just a weekly dose.”

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How Much Do These Drugs Cost?

If one is using these for weight loss, medical insurance in the United States might not cover the cost of these injections. Doses of Wegovy (which are required to be taken once every week) might cost USD 1,349.02 for a month. On the other hand, Ozempic might cost USD 1,368 per month.

Dr Mithal and Dr Sahani acknowledge as well that the prices are exorbitant, not making the drug accesible to those who might need it the most.

However, ever since these drugs started “trending,” there has been increased pressure on the supply chains. The Daily Mail reported that many US pharmacies have backlogs of this drug till December at this point.

However, there is no clarity on the availability of Wegovy and Ozempic in India yet. But doctors do prescribe a drug called Rybelsus which is also a semaglutide.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Weight Loss   Obesity   Diabetes 

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