Weight loss injections have taken over the internet. But what does this mean for IRL people?
Good side effects, bad side effects
In the beginning, weight loss was just a side effect. GLP-1 RA was first developed to treat type 2 diabetes; Their hormone-mimicking action stimulates insulin production. In 2005, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug of its kind, Exenatide, for diabetics. Throughout the 2000s, more and more GLP-1 RAs were introduced to the market. Immediately, the patients noticed that these drugs not only treated their diabetes but also helped them lose weight.
Ozempic and Wegovy, the brand name of GLP-1 RA called semaglutide, are both manufactured by Novo Nordisk, a Danish pharmaceutical company. Although both contain the same active ingredient, these drugs have different indications, dosages, prescribing information, titration schedules, and delivery devices. In 2017, Ozempic was first approved as a treatment for diabetes, and doctors soon began prescribing it to overweight patients. Then Novo Nordisk developed Wegovy specifically for weight loss. In June 2021, it becomes the first new treatment for chronic obesity to be approved by the FDA since 2014.
Then, in May 2022, the FDA approved Mounjaro as a treatment for diabetes; now this agency officially “Quick follow up“Investigation of its active ingredient, tirzepatide, on obesity. A spokesperson for the drug’s maker, Eli Lilly, said it is currently only approved for blood sugar control in adults with type 2 diabetes, and the company “does not advertise or promote the use of Mounjaro other than just approved by the FDA.” However, since the drug hit the market, doctors have prescribed off-brand weight loss pills – there are almost 100,000 pills in a single Facebook group called “Mounjaro weight loss success.”
Clinical trials have shown that patients taking tirzepatide experience at least 20% of their weight for 72 weeks, while overweight adults on Wegovy lost an average of 15% of body weight in 68 weeks.
Edenfield is one such success story. Unable to work at the height of the pandemic, he stayed at home “eating a lot and eating very unhealthy.” He compared his diet to that of a teenager: frequent fast food sandwiches, cheese steaks and burgers accompanied by a “heavy addiction” to Coca-Cola. When his weight hit 357 pounds (he’s 6 feet 3 inches tall), he sought gastrectomy because his employer would cover the cost. However, the doctor he saw recommended Ozempic instead. He lost 15 pounds in the first month of taking the drug and switched to Wegovy in February 2022. He now weighs 228.
“It has changed every aspect of my life,” says Edenfield—he no longer feels “attacked” by hunger and is no longer short of breath as he walks to work. “I feel like I’m in my 20s again,” he said.
The results can be enviable, but the daily realities of weight loss injections are not always pleasant. The most common side effects were gastrointestinal, including nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. Edenfield consulted Reddit for tips on alleviating “brutal” nausea. Several semaglutide-specific subreddits have emerged or have grown in popularity over the past year—the subreddits that Edenfield posted on were created in 2021 and currently have close to 22,000 members. Meanwhile, countless Facebook groups were also created during the weight loss injection boom. Here, people report vomiting, headaches, fatigue, “sulphur burps,” and hair loss—although the vast majority seem to feel that it is a small price to pay for weight loss.
In 68 weeks Wegovy testing, 4.5% of participants discontinued treatment because of gastrointestinal events. Peter Kurtzhals, Novo Nordisk’s chief scientific adviser, says that such side effects usually subside as patients get used to the drug. A company spokesperson added that patients who experience nausea on Wegovy “should contact their healthcare provider, who can offer guidance on how to manage it.”