If you’re one of the thousands of Australians using Ozempic for weight loss, you’re probably wondering how long you’re going to have to keep on giving yourself weekly injections? You’re probably also wondering what happens when you stop? Is Ozempic a long-term solution to obesity? Below you’ll find the answers to these questions and more…
What is Ozempic?
Ozempic is a prescription medication containing the active ingredient semaglutide which is used to treat type 2 diabetes (T2DM) and obesity.1-3 The brand name for the weight loss version, by the way, is Wegovy). Semaglutide belongs to the drug class called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) agonists.1-3 This means that it mimics the action of the body’s own naturally occurring GLP-1 hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar levels and control appetite.1-3
How does semaglutide work?
It changes how the body responds to food and uses energy by lowering blood sugar levels in several ways.1-3 Semaglutide stimulates the pancreas to produce more insulin, reduces the amount of glucose produced by the liver and slows down the digestion of food.1-3 Together, these effects can result in reduced appetite and increased feelings of fullness which can be a game changer for people who’ve struggled to lose weight previously.
How long does someone use semaglutide?
The length of time a person would stay on a weight loss medication like Ozempic depends on a number of factors, including their individual response to the medication, their health goals and any underlying medical conditions.
If you’re using Ozempic for T2DM, you will likely keep using the weekly injection in combination with other medicines for diabetes control for as long as your GP or diabetes specialist advises. This could be for years, depending on how well controlled your diabetes is.
If you’re using semaglutide for obesity, your doctor will monitor your weight loss while slowly shifting your weekly dose over a few months up to the 1mg maintenance dose. But here’s where it gets interesting, most of the weight loss occurs at higher doses than this so a lot of people using Ozempic will be unlikely to get the dramatic results people are talking about on social media.4
For some people, they won’t respond to Ozempic at all, in which case it will be deprescribed. But if it’s going well for you and you’re losing weight, you can probably expect to keep using Ozempic until you reach the goal BMI discussed with your doctor.
Is there a limit to how long someone can use semaglutide?
There is no currently known limit to how long a person can safely take Ozempic, as long as they tolerate it well and their doctor continues to prescribe it. 4 Most of the studies on medicines in this drug class last for a maximum of 18 months.4 What we do know is obesity is a chronic and progressive condition which requires ongoing multi-disciplinary management, mainly meaning nutrition, portion control, physical activity and sometimes psychological support .4
What happens if I stop taking semaglutide?
When you stop using semaglutide, the evidence is that you will likely put some of that weight back on.4-5 Want proof? A 2021 randomised, double-blind study showed, people who stopped using Ozempic after 20 weeks regained 7% body weight while those who continued the weekly injections lost a further 8% body weight.7 An even more recent study found that one year after ceasing their weekly semaglutide injection, participants had regained two-thirds of the weight they’d lost.8
These studies suggest further research is needed to take a closer look at the role of the medication’s use longer-term and its place in obesity control.4-8
What else do I need to know about semaglutide for weight loss?
It is not a cure for obesity, but can be effective for initiating weight loss in conjunction with healthy lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise that must become part of long-term weight loss maintenance. Remember, most studies on the efficacy of medications for weight loss require participants to make lifestyle modifications during the study.4-8 Once those supports fall away, weight gain is common.4-8
Beyond weight loss, are there other benefits to using semaglutide?
Medicines in the semaglutide family (GLP-1 agonists) are being studied to see what role they might have in reducing the risk of other chronic problems such as heart disease, which often occur in tandem with obesity.4
What is the future of weight loss medications?
Research into medications for weight loss continues and many new medications are in the pipeline. Only one thing is certain at the moment, they’re not an instant cure for people living with obesity so it’s always worth talking to your GP for personalised care and advice.
1. Ozempic Consumer Medicine Information (CMI) summary. Accessed November 13, 2023. https://www.ebs.tga.gov.au/ebs/picmi/picmirepository.nsf/pdf?OpenAgent&id=CP-2020-CMI-01750-1&d=20231114172310101
2. Novo Nordisk. Ozempic. [nd]. Accessed November 13, 2023. https://www.ozempic.com
3. Semaglutide. Australian Medicines Handbook. July, 2022. Accessed November 14, 2023. https://amhonline-amh-net-au.eu1.proxy.openathens.net/chapters/endocrine-drugs/drugs-diabetes/glucagon-like-peptide-1-analogues/semaglutide#semaglutide-dosage
4. Jeong D, Priefer R. Anti-obesity weight loss medications: Short-term and long-term use. Life Sciences. 2022: 306. doi:10.1016/j.lfs.2022.120825.
5. Suran M. As Ozempic’s popularity soars, here’s what to know about semaglutide and weight loss. JAMA. 2023;329(19):1627–1629. Accessed November 13, 2023. doi:10.1001/jama.2023.2438
6. Phillips A, Clements J. Clinical review of subcutaneous semaglutide for obesity. J Clin Pharm Ther.2022;47;2:184–93. doi:10.1111/jcpt.13574
7. Rubino D, Abrahamsson N, Davies M, et al. Effect of continued weekly subcutaneous semaglutide vs placebo on weight loss maintenance in adults with overweight or obesity. JAMA. 2021;325:1414. Accessed November 13, 2023. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33755728/
8. Wilding JP, Batterham RL, Davies M, et al. Weight regain and cardiometabolic effects after withdrawal of semaglutide: the STEP 1 trial extension. Diabetes Obes. Metab. 2022;24;1553–1564. Accessed November 22, 2023. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35441470/